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

Dunn, C. G., & Angermeier, P. L. (2016). Development of habitat suitability indices for the Candy Darter, with cross-scale validation across representative populations. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 145(6), 1266-1281.


Understanding relationships between habitat associations for individuals and habitat factors that limit populations is a primary challenge for managers of stream fishes. Although habitat use by individuals can provide insight into the adaptive significance of selected microhabitats, not all habitat parameters will be significant at the population level, particularly when distributional patterns partially result fromhabitat degradation.We used underwater observation to quantify microhabitat selection by an imperiled stream fish, the Candy Darter Etheostoma osburni, in two streams with robust populations. We developed multiple-variable and multiple-life-stage habitat suitability indices (HSIs) from microhabitat selection patterns and used them to assess the suitability of available habitat in streams where Candy Darter populations were extirpated, localized, or robust. Next, we used a comparative framework to examine relationships among (1) habitat availability across streams, (2) projected habitat suitability of each stream, and (3) a rank for the likely long-term viability (robustness) of the population inhabiting each stream. Habitat selection was characterized by ontogenetic shifts from the low-velocity, slightly embedded areas used by age-0 Candy Darters to the swift, shallow areas with little fine sediment and complex substrate, which were used by adults. Overall, HSIs were strongly correlated with population rank. However, we observed weak or inverse relationships between predicted individual habitat suitability and population robustness for multiple life stages and variables. The results demonstrated that microhabitat selection by individuals does not always reflect population robustness, particularly when based on a single life stage or season, which highlights the risk of generalizing habitat selection that is observed during nonstressful periods or for noncritical resources. These findings suggest that stream fish managers may need to be cautious when implementing conservation measures based solely on observations of habitat selection by individuals and that detailed study at the individual and population levels may be necessary to identify habitat that limits populations.