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

Leppi, JC, JA Falke, DJ Rinella, MS Wipfli, AC Seitz, MS Whitman. Landscape Geomorphology and Local-Riverine Features Influence Broad Whitefish (Coregonus nasus) Spawning Habitat Suitability in Arctic Alaska. For submission to Ecosystems.


Landscape-level geomorphic processes influence the spatial and temporal arrangement of fish habitats in freshwater ecosystems and fish move across riverscapes selecting a suite of habitats to maximize fitness. Here, we explore the influence of geomorphology on stream channel attributes and assess Broad Whitefish (Coregonus nasus) spawning habitat potential in the Colville River, in Arctic Alaska. Using high-resolution digital surface models (5 m2), we quantified the stream network extent and summarized channel habitat attributes continuously across the drainage network. Next, we developed an intrinsic potential (IP) model for Broad Whitefish by using geomorphic channel parameters previously understood to be associated with spawning habitats (channel width, median substrate size, and channel braiding) to estimate the potential of streams across the Colville River watershed to provide spawning habitat. Our model results show the majority of habitat with high IP (≥ 0.6) was located within the braided sections of the main channel, which encompass > 1,548 km, but only 2 % of the total channel network. The IP model was tested by tracking radio-tagged Broad Whitefish using aerial surveys. Prespawn fish moved into the watershed starting mid-July and mostly used habitat with moderate to very high IP in the middle and lower watershed. Several individuals were relocated in smaller anastomosing channels that contained very low IP (≤ 0.2), suggesting that other factors, such as hyporheic flow, may also influence spawning habitat selection. Our study demonstrates that IP modeling offers a useful method to quantify spawning habitat potential in data-poor riverscapes, providing useful information for managers to assess potential anthropogenic impacts, and develop conservation plans to protect essential Broad Whitefish habitat.