Distribution, phenology, growth, and overwinter mortality of age-0 smallmouth bass in the Yellowstone River, with implications for upstream range expansion
Voss, Nicholas Sheridan
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Non-native fish introductions are a leading threat to freshwater biodiversity, and accurate assessments of future impact are often hindered by the challenge of anticipating future range expansion. Successful introductions of non-native Smallmouth Bass Micropterus dolomieu have occurred globally and often exhibit secondary spread to upstream habitat. This has occurred in the Yellowstone River, Montana (USA). Observations of adults in socio-economically valuable trout habitat have highlighted a need to better understand the controls on the upstream distribution of Smallmouth Bass in this system, particularly the influence of cold upstream climates on first-year growth and size-selective overwinter mortality (a potential life history bottleneck at northern latitudes). We documented the phenology, growth, and survival of age-0 Smallmouth Bass in relation to water temperature between the uppermost distribution of adults, and downstream regions where they are abundant. Successful reproduction (i.e., age-0 presence) was rare or absent throughout the uppermost 150 km of the upstream distribution of adults, suggesting that something currently prevents or discourages successful reproduction farther upstream. Surprisingly, the mean late-autumn body size of age-0 Smallmouth Bass did not differ significantly among the uppermost 200 km of their distribution, despite upstream declines in ambient water temperature. Although water temperature was a key attribute affecting age-0 growth, upstream shifts towards earlier hatching mediated the expected negative effect of colder upstream climates. Furthermore, surveys of overwinter survivors and simulations of age-0 starvation mortality indicated that age-0 individuals at the upstream extent of their distribution successfully recruited to the age-1 year-class in four consecutive years. Taken together, our results suggest that Smallmouth Bass have not yet reached the thermal limit of their upstream distribution, and that first-year growth, survival, and consequent spread by this non-native predator are probably driven by the complex interactions of spawn timing and ambient thermal and hydrologic regimes in the Yellowstone River.