Relating the reproductive performance of westslope cutthroat trout to trait specialization to screen for artificial selection vulnerability in a conservation hatchery
Preul-Stimetz, Taylor Nicole
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To mitigate westslope cutthroat trout (WCT; Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi) declines, Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks carries out large scale restorations, including wild-origin stocking efforts from conservation hatcheries. Although hatcheries have made progress in limiting the effects of artificial selection on stocked populations, concerns remain that rearing practices inadvertently reduce the diversity propagated into the wild. The objective of this research was to identify traits of WCT driving poor survival or reproduction in a hatchery, allowing managers to reduce artificial selection by screening for fish requiring alternative rearing. In Chapter 1, I repeatedly measured 18 behavior, morphology, and health traits from hatchery intake (July 2019) to spawn (June 2021). I identified traits with low within- relative to between-individual variation as traits likely to be indicative of specialization. As specialists tend to maximize performance under a narrow range of conditions, they may be vulnerable to artificial selection within hatcheries. In Chapter 2, I tested whether the specialized traits identified in Chapter 1, growth rate, or age at hatchery intake of individual WCT could predict survival or reproduction. In Chapter 1, I identified nine specialized (relative condition, weighted health index, health index, body shape, energetic reserves, latency, and upper jaw, lower jaw, and anal fin residual length) traits. I hypothesized these traits would predict later survival or reproductive performance. In Chapter 2, I identified October 2019 daily growth rate in weight and every replicate length measurement after October 2019 to strongly predict total ovulated eggs and total number of hatch embryos produced by females. However, among individual variation in the median percent hatch embryos was not explained by maternal size. Male gamete quality and fertilization success was consistently high, and I found no biologically significant predictors of reproductive performance for males. I also found no predictors of survival for males or females. Despite high total ovulated eggs and total hatch embryo success for females, variable female median percent hatch embryos suggests that quality of ovulated eggs is driving current limitations to WCT hatchery reproduction. I recommend further investigation into impacts of rearing stressors and post-ovulatory aging on female WCT and their reproductive performance.