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, and C.A. Caldwell. 2021. Interacting Effects of Density-dependent and Density-independent Factors on Growth Rates in Southwestern Cutthroat Trout Populations. Transactions of the American Fisheries 150:651-664.


Density-dependent (DD) and density-independent (DI) effects play an important role in shaping fish growth rates, an attribute that correlates with many life-history traits in fishes. Consequently, understanding the extent to which DD and DI effects influence growth rates is valuable for fisheries assessments because it can inform managers how populations may respond as environmental conditions continue to change (e.g., threats from climate change). We used a Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii virginalis, RGCT) capture-mark-recapture data set collected over two years along a temperature and density gradient in northern New Mexico streams to test the extent to which DD and DI effects interact to affect specific growth rates. We found that temperature (DI) and density (DD) interacted with RGCT life stage (i.e., immature or mature) to affect growth rates. We only detected evidence of a negative DD effect on RGCT growth for the immature fraction of a population when exposed to the warmest stream temperatures. Our results suggest that competition most strongly affected the immature portion of RGCT populations, and this effect was only detectable when temperatures were warmest and energetic stress was likely at its highest. The quadratic relationship between temperature and growth rates also demonstrated that stream temperatures were below as well as above optimal growth temperatures for RGCT. Growth rates in our RGCT populations were influenced by complex interactions of DD and DI effects and our results suggest that the negative consequences of warming trends associated with climate change on RGCT populations may be exacerbated by DD effects.