Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Utah
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Utah Project

BoR & NPS: Efficacy of conservation actions for native fishes in tributaries of the Colorado River, Grand Canyon

September 2018 - May 2021


Participating Agencies

  • Bureau of Recalmation

The predominantly endemic fishes of the American Southwest are highly imperiled due to pervasive hydrological alteration of aquatic habitats through river regulation and human water use, compounded by the widespread introduction of nonnative competitors and predators. The Colorado River’s desert fishes evolved in an environment characterized by seasonally variable temperatures and frequent flooding and drought. However, stabilized flow and thermal regimes in the post-dam era favor nonnative fishes whose life history strategies evolved in stable and predictable environments. In the Grand Canyon, Arizona, conservation actions including nonnative fish suppression and flow experiments designed to benefit nearshore habitats and encourage juvenile fish recruitment, have been underway to recover the endangered humpback chub (Gila cypha). Yet the responses in the population dynamics of both native and nonnative fishes to these conservation actions have been equivocal; environmental variability and ecosystem complexity have sometimes confounded the interpretation of results. Two recent experimental conservation actions have been implemented in tributaries within Grand Canyon National Park including the intensive stream-wide suppression of nonnative brown trout (Salmo trutta) and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in Bright Angel Creek, and translocations of humpback chub. The aim of these actions is to enhance resiliency and redundancy of the Grand Canyon humpback chub population, reduce the risk of predation by nonnative salmonids, and enhance native fish populations. Translocations are conducted in three tributaries of differing physical and biological attributes, following nonnative fish suppression. The objectives of this study are to assess the efficacy of these efforts in restoring native fish communities and establishing reproducing populations of humpback chub, by 1) quantifying the effects of nonnative suppression and environmental variability on demographic vital rates (i.e., survival, recruitment, mortality) of native fishes and introduced salmonids; 2) assessing factors contributing to the likelihood of establishing self-sustaining humpback chub populations in small Colorado River tributaries; and, 3) developing an integrated population model for brown trout to quantify future levels of suppression necessary to reduce or eradicate the population in the Grand Canyon and beyond. Through detailed evaluations of humpback chub vital rates in translocated populations, plans for the reestablishment of the species in the Upper Colorado River Basin may be more-informed. Detailed examination of the response of brown trout, one of the most destructive invaders introduced across the globe, will assist fisheries managers in designing mechanical control strategies where eradication through chemical means is not a socially or logistically acceptable option.

Presentations Presentation Date
Healy, B.D., R. C. Schelly, C. B. Yackulic, E.C. Omana Smith, M.M. McKinstry, M.M. Conner, and P. Budy. Native Fish Population Responses to Mechanical Suppression of Invasive Brown Trout in a Grand Canyon Tributary. Oral Presentation: American Fisheries Society and The Wildlife Society Joint Conference, Reno, Nevada, September 30-October 3, 2019. October 2019