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

Huntsman, B.M., A.J. Lynch, C.A. Caldwell, and F. Abadi. 2021. Intrinsic and extrinsic drivers of life-history variability for a southwestern cutthroat trout. Ecology of Freshwater Fish 30:100-114.


The impacts of climate change on cold water fishes will likely negatively manifest in populations at the trailing edge of their distributions. Rio Grande cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii virginalis, RGCT) occupy arid southwestern U.S.A. streams at the southern-most edge of all cutthroat trout distributions, making RGCT particularly vulnerable to the anticipated warming and drying in this region. We hypothesized that RGCT possess a portfolio of life-history traits that aid in their persistence within streams of varying temperature and stream drying conditions. We used otolith and multistate capture-mark-recapture data to determine how these environmental constraints influence life-history trait expression (length- and age-at-maturity) and demography in RGCT populations from northern New Mexico, U.S.A. We found evidence that RGCT reached maturity fastest at sites with warm stream temperatures and low densities. We did not find a strong relationship between discharge and any demographic rate, although apparent survival of mature RGCT decreased as stream temperature increased. Our study suggests plasticity in trait expression may be a life-history characteristic which can assist trailing edge populations like RGCT persist in a changing climate.