Factors affecting habitat selection by a small spawning charr population, bull trout, Salvelinus confluentus: implications for recovery of an endangered species
Bull trout, Salvelinus confluentus (Suckley), populations are declining in many streams of North America and are listed under the Endangered Species Act in the United States. Many small populations are isolated in fragmented habitats where spawning conditions and success are not well understood. Factors affecting habitats selected for redds by spawning bull trout and redd habitat characteristics within Gold Creek, a headwater stream in the Yakima River within the Columbia River basin, Washington State, USA, were evaluated. Most spawning (>80% of the redds) occurred in upstream habitats after dewatering of downstream channels isolated fish. Habitats were selected or avoided in proportions different to their availability. For example, most bull trout selected pools and glides and avoided riffles despite the latter being more readily available. Although preferences suggest influences of prolonged fish entrapment, site fidelity could be important. A habitat with redds commonly contained abundant cover, gravel substratum and higher stream flows. The major factors influencing habitat selection by spawning fish and their persistence in streams of the Yakima and Columbia River regions include entrapment of fish by dewatering of channels and geographical isolation by dams. The goal of the US Government's recovery plan is ‘to ensure the long-term persistence of self-sustaining bull trout populations’. Recovery plans linked to provisions for protecting and conserving bull trout populations and their habitats were recommended. Landscape approaches are needed that provide networks of refuge habitats and greater connectivity between populations. Concurrent recovery efforts are encouraged to focus on protecting small populations and minimizing dangers of hybridization.