Status of northern pearl dace and chrosomid dace in prairie streams of Montana
Stringer, Allison Louise
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Non-native Northern Pike Esox lucius are predators that negatively affect native fish assemblages, possibly including those in Montana prairie streams, where their effects had not been investigated heretofore. I compared fish assemblages of prairie streams with and without Northern Pike and other non-native predators, with a focus on three species of concern that are probably particularly susceptible to predation (Northern Pearl Dace Margariscus nachtriebi (hereafter pearl dace), Northern Redbelly Dace Chrosomus eos, and Northern Redbelly Dace x Finescale Dace hybrids C. eos x C. neogaeus [hereafter hybrid dace]). I documented fish assemblages at 140 sites across the historical distribution of Northern Redbelly Dace and hybrid dace (hereafter collectively referred to as chrosomid dace), including 88 sites in the historical distribution of pearl dace. I estimated percent declines in distribution by comparing the number of currently occupied historical streams with the total number of historical streams and then determined if cooccurrence of pearl dace or chrosomid dace with non-native predators was different than predicted by chance. I augmented my dataset with fish collections from 5 additional sources and evaluated whether sites with and without Northern Pike differed in native species richness (with a Poisson regression) or assemblage composition (with a discriminant function analysis). Pearl dace distribution declined 63.3 to 83.3%, and chrosomid dace distribution declined 32.0% to 67.2%, depending on how declines were calculated. Pearl dace almost never co-occurred with Northern Pike or non-native trout and chrosomid dace rarely co-occurred with them. Native minnow species richness was 52% lower at sites with Northern Pike than at sites without Northern Pike. Predation probably caused the observed changes. Pearl dace are at extreme risk and chrosomid dace are at moderate risk of extirpation from Montana, and non-native predators appear to be the biggest threat to their continued persistence. Exclusion of Northern Pike from drainages where they have not yet invaded will afford fisheries managers the best chance of conserving native minnows in Montana prairie streams.