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

Vaisvil, A., C.A. Caldwell, and E. Frey. Effects of water-level fluctuations and water temperature on young-of-year Largemouth Bass in a southwest Irrigation reservoir. Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management. 13(2). doi 10.3996/JFWM-21-071.


The effects of a warming climate will alter the hydrological cycles of arid southwestern U.S. reservoirs which primarily support agricultural needs, provide flood control, and generate hydroelectric power while secondarily supporting fish communities and sport fishing opportunities. The success of littoral spawning fishes depends on the timing and variability of water levels. The onset of drought between 2017 and 2018 provided an opportunity to evaluate the timing of hatch dates and relative abundance of young-of-year Largemouth Bass Micropterus salmoides across two water years of varying water temperatures and water levels in a southwestern U.S. reservoir. A retrospective analysis of otoliths in young-of-year Largemouth Bass revealed similar hatch dates in 2017 (14 April–29 May) and 2018 (13 April–28 May) despite differences in water temperature and water level rate-of-change. Median water temperature during hatch dates was greater in 2017 (median 19.0°C, range 14.3–24.4°C) than 2018 (17.6°C, range 13.5–21.7°C). Water level rate-of-change during hatch dates in 2017 was positive (+3.1– +13.1 cm/d), which reflected reservoir filling. In contrast, water level rate-of-change during hatch dates in 2018 was negative (-8.5– -0.6 cm/d), which reflected reservoir receding. Relative abundance of young-of-year fish was greater in 2017 (21.7 fish/h) when the reservoir was filling compared to relative abundance in 2018 (6.8 fish/h) when the reservoir was receding. The median growth rate was greater in 2017 (1.02 mm/d) when the reservoir was filling than in 2018 (0.82 mm/d) when the reservoir was receding. Despite differences in water temperature and contrasting reservoir levels between the two water years, the Largemouth Bass population in a southwest U.S. reservoir exhibited similar hatch dates reported for the species in southeastern and northeastern U.S. reservoirs. While water demand in the 21st century may exceed availability, the opportunity exists to collaborate with water managers to benefit Largemouth Bass populations in southwestern reservoirs.