Pease JE, TB Grabowski, & AA Pease. 2017. Variation and plasticity and their interaction with urbanization in Guadalupe Bass populations on and off the Edwards Plateau. U.S. Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Cooperator Science Series FWS/CSS-125-2017, Washington, D.C.
The Colorado River Basin in Texas has experienced major alterations to its hydrologic regime due to changing land and water use patterns. These anthropogenic influences on hydrologic variability have had major implications for riparian and aquatic ecosystems and the species dependent upon them. However, impacts are often assessed at a limited temporal and spatial scale, tending to focus on relatively short and discrete periods or portions of a river basin. It is not clear how basin-wide alterations occurring over decades affect species. Guadalupe Bass Micropterus treculii are endemic to central Texas and are typically associated with shallow runs and riffles in small streams. However, Guadalupe Bass are found throughout the Colorado River Basin, including the mainstem portion of the lower river downstream of the city of Austin where they support a popular fishery. Because Guadalupe Bass exist across a wide range of stream orders within the basin, it is unclear whether populations respond similarly to anthropogenic disturbances or to conservation and restoration activities. Therefore, our objectives were to: 1. Assess the effects of urbanization and hydrology on the population structure and dynamics of Guadalupe Bass. 2. Evaluate the effects of environmental gradients on ecomorphological variation in Guadalupe Bass populations across multiple spatial scales. 3. Describe the life history, habitat use, and behavior of the Guadalupe Bass population in the lower Colorado River and compare it to populations in more “typical” habitats. Results contribute to an understanding of the response of Guadalupe Bass to anthropogenic disturbances, including increased urbanization in central Texas and further assist in the conservation of the species. The ability of the population to not only persist, but flourish downstream of a heavily populated urban area presented a unique opportunity to investigate a native species response to anthropogenic disturbance. This research revealed differences in Guadalupe Bass habitat associations and movements, contrasts in age and growth, and morphological variation across a gradient of disturbance throughout the Colorado River Basin. Results of this work provide information on the potential effects of human population growth and increased water withdrawals on Guadalupe Bass populations. Additionally, this work adds to an understanding of the unique Guadalupe Bass population found in the lower Colorado River and how it differs from upstream tributary populations. Gathering additional population-level information facilitates conservation actions critical to preserving preferred habitat and promoting growth rates for Guadalupe Bass in streams of different sizes and flow conditions while highlighting interpopulation differences that may warrant consideration for stocking programs and other management strategies. Key findings of this study were: • The similarity in response of growth rates to streamflow throughout the Colorado Basin suggests phenotypic plasticity in this trait rather than population-specific adaptations. • Reductions in streamflows in the Colorado River Basin, whether due to increased frequency of drought or increased anthropogenic water withdrawal, will likely result in lower Guadalupe Bass growth rates with the potential to impact the structure of populations. • Growth and recruitment showed a positive correlation with increased baseflows and mean monthly flows; however, continued assessment is necessary to determine a true relationship. • We documented morphological divergence among Guadalupe Bass populations in response to spatial and temporal environmental variation. These ecomorphological differences among populations provide insight into the ability of Guadalupe Bass to respond to the differing in-stream habitat and flow conditions between small ‘typical’ tributary systems and the mainstem Colorado River. • Morphological variation may be a population-level adaptation that potentially needs to be taken into consideration when choosing broodstock to maximize stocking success within a system. Understanding the morphological differences between Guadalupe Bass populations in response to local conditions could improve the success of restoration and supplemental stocking programs, especially in the ever-changing landscape of central Texas. • We established a baseline for understanding the morphological response of Guadalupe Bass to increased population growth and the threats posed by increased water withdrawals and impervious surface. • The mainstem population of Guadalupe Bass was generally more mobile, and more responsive to changes in streamflow, than tributary populations. The observed differences could influence the response of Guadalupe Bass populations to conservation and management actions, such as habitat restoration efforts. • Continued monitoring of recruitment and angler exploitation may be beneficial to identify any changes that could negatively impact the population. Conservation initiatives solely focused on physical instream or riparian habitat are unlikely to be as beneficial to Guadalupe Bass as those focused on restoring or maintaining adequate streamflow.