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

Ayre, K.K., C.A. Caldwell, J. Stinson, and W.G. Landis. Analysis of regional scale risk to whirling disease in populations of Colorado and Rio Grande cutthroat trout using a Bayesian belief network model. Journal of Risk Analysis 34:1589-1605. DOI:10.1111/risa.12189


Introduction and spread of the parasite Myxobolus cerebralis, the causative agent of whirling disease, has contributed to the collapse of wild trout populations throughout the intermountain west. Of concern is the risk the disease may have on conservation and recovery of native cutthroat trout. We employed a Bayesian belief network to assess probability of whirling disease in Colorado River and Rio Grande cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii pleuriticus and O. c. virginalis, respectively) within their current ranges in the southwest United States. Available habitat (as defined by gradient and elevation) for intermediate oligochaete worm host, Tubifex tubifex, exerted the greatest influence on the likelihood of infection, yet prevalence of stream barriers also affected the risk outcome. Management areas that had the highest likelihood of infected Colorado River cutthroat trout were in the eastern portion of their range, although the probability of infection was highest for populations in the southern, San Juan sub-basin. Rio Grande cutthroat trout had a relatively low likelihood of infection, with populations in the southernmost Pecos management area predicted to be at greatest risk. The Bayesian risk assessment model predicted the likelihood of whirling disease infection from its principal transmission vector, fish movement, and suggested that barriers may be effective in reducing risk of exposure to native trout populations. Data gaps, especially with regards to location of spawning, highlighted the importance in developing monitoring plans that supports future risk assessments and adaptive management for subspecies of cutthroat trout.