Medinski, N.A.*, Maitland, B.M.*, Jardine, T.D., Drake, D.A.R. and M.S. Poesch (2022) A catastrophic coal mine spill in the Athabasca River watershed induces isotopic niche shifts in stream biota including an endangered rainbow trout ecotype. Canadian Journal for Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.

Citation: Medinski, N.A., Maitland, B.M., Jardine, T.D., Drake, D.A.R. and M.S. Poesch (2022) A catastrophic coal mine spill in the Athabasca River watershed induces isotopic niche shifts in stream biota including an endangered rainbow trout ecotype. Canadian Journal for Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.

Abstract

Freshwater biodiversity is declining from impacts associated with anthropogenic stressors. Here, we use carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) stable isotopes to assess food web effects following a coal mine spill that displaced biota and altered biophysical stream characteristics. We compared isotopic niche metrics of benthic macroinvertebrates and the fish community, including non-native brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) and endangered Athabasca rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), to infer spatial differences in site-specific resource use along a habitat disturbance gradient. Predatory benthic macroinvertebrate trophic position was elevated where impacts from the spill were most pronounced. Autochthonous carbon contribution to consumer diets was lowest in biota sampled at the most highly impacted site from the mine spill, leading to an unexpected expansion of the isotopic niche size of rainbow trout and the aquatic invertebrate community. Collectively, our results suggest spatial variation in trophic resource assimilation across multiple levels of the food web, fuelled by the allochthonous energy pathway in highly impacted study sites. We conclude this reflects a biotic response to altered basal aquatic resources following a major industrial disturbance.

*Lab members: Nathan Medinski, Bryan Maitland, Mark Poesch. Check out opportunities in the lab!

Roberts, K.N.*, Lund, T.*, Hayden, B. and M.S. Poesch (2022) Season and species influence stable isotope ratios between lethally and non-lethally sampled tissues in freshwater fish. Journal of Fish Biology 100 (1): 229-241.

Citation: Roberts, K.N., Lund, T., Hayden, B. and M.S. Poesch (2022) Season and species influence stable isotope ratios between lethally and non-lethally sampled tissues in freshwater fish. Journal of Fish Biology 100 (1): 229-241. DOI: 10.1111/jfb.14939

Finalist for FSBI Huntingford Medal. Note: One of two papers that received the “Highly Commended” designation.

Abstract

The field of stable isotope ecology is moving away from lethal sampling (internal organs and muscle) towards non-lethal sampling (fins, scales and epidermal mucus). Lethally and non-lethally sampled tissues often differ in their stable isotope ratios due to differences in metabolic turnover rate and isotopic routing. If not accounted for when using non-lethal tissues, these differences may result in inaccurate estimates of resource use and trophic position derived from stable isotopes. To address this, the authors tested whether tissue type, season and their interaction influence the carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios of fishes and whether estimates of species trophic position and resource use are affected by tissue type, season and their interaction. This study developed linear conversion relationships between two fin types and dorsal muscle, accounting for seasonal variation. The authors focused on three common temperate freshwater fishes: northern pike Esox lucius, yellow perch Perca flavescens and lake whitefish Coregonus clupeaformis. They found that fins were enriched in 13C and depleted in 15N compared to muscle in all three species, but the effect of season and the interaction between tissue type and season were species and isotope dependent. The estimates of littoral resource use based on fin isotope ratios were between 13% and 36% greater than those based on muscle across species. Season affected this difference for some species, suggesting the potential importance of using season-specific conversions when working with non-lethal tissues. Fin and muscle stable isotopes produced similar estimates of trophic position for northern pike and yellow perch, but fin-based estimates were 0.2–0.4 trophic positions higher than muscle-based estimates for lake whitefish. The effect of season was negligible for estimates of trophic position in all species. Strong correlations existed between fin and muscle δ13C and δ15N values for all three species; thus, linear conversion relationships were developed. The results of this study support the use of non-lethal sampling in stable isotope studies of fishes. The authors suggest that researchers use tissue conversion relationships and account for seasonal variation in these relationships when differences between non-lethal tissues and muscle,
and seasonal effects on those differences, are large relative to the scale of isotope values under investigation and/or the trophic discrimination factors under use.

*Lab members: Karling Roberts, Mark Poesch. Check out opportunities in the lab!

Finn, K.*, Roberts, K.N.* and M.S. Poesch (2022) Cestode parasites are depleted in 15N relative to their fish hosts in northern Alberta, Canada. Fisheries Research 248: 106193..

Citation: Finn, K., Roberts, K.N. and M.S. Poesch (2022) Cestode parasites are depleted in 15N relative to their fish hosts in northern Alberta, Canada. Fisheries Research 248: 106193.

Abstract

The use of stable isotopes to study trophic interactions and food webs has become a common practice in ecology. Until recently, parasites were largely omitted from these analyses despite their known contribution to ecosystem complexity and function. Long-standing assumptions about the enrichment of δ15N in consumers relative to their resources occasionally placed parasites in trophic positions above their hosts. However, recent literature has shown that unlike consumers to prey, parasites do not reliably exhibit enrichment in δ15N. This is particularly true of helminth endoparasites in the class cestoda, which tend to be depleted in δ15N. We developed empirical estimates of nitrogen and carbon stable isotope ratios from a cestode parasite (Ligula intestinalis) across four fish hosts from two lakes in northern Alberta, Canada. We found that L. intestinalis were depleted in δ15N relative to their hosts across all host fish species, with mean nitrogen discrimination factors (Δ15N) ranging from -1.92 ± 0.24 ‰ to -2.91 ± 1.17 ‰. In contrast, δ 13C values did not differ significantly in any direction between hosts and their parasites. Mean carbon discrimination factors (Δ13C) ranged from -0.66 ± 2.69 ‰ to 0.04 ± 1.53 ‰. We also tested for relationships between proportional parasite biomass and discrimination factor (Δ15N & Δ13C), and found high variability in strength and direction of these correlations across species. The direction and magnitude of nitrogen discrimination we found for L. intestinalis is similar to that of previous cestode stable isotope studies and may indicate consistency across the class cestoda. However, class cestoda is incredibly diverse and relatively few studies have examined host-parasite
discrimination factors within the clade. We encourage additional research into host-parasite discrimination factors for the class cestoda, and across all parasite taxa. This could facilitate the inclusion of these widespread interactions into food web studies, thus improving our knowledge of trophic structure and dynamics.

*Lab members: Karling Roberts, Mark Poesch. Check out opportunities in the lab!

Pereyra, P.E.R, Hallwas, G., Poesch, M.S. and R. Silvano (2021) ‘Taking fishers’ knowledge to the lab’: an interdisciplinary approach to understand fish trophic relationships in the Brazilian Amazon. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

Citation: Pereyra, P.E.R, Hallwass, G., Poesch, M.S. and R. Silvano (2021) ‘Taking fishers’ knowledge to the lab’: an interdisciplinary approach to understand fish trophic relationships in the Brazilian Amazon. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fevo.2021.723026

Abstract

Trophic levels can be applied to describe the ecological role of organisms in food webs and assess changes in ecosystems. Stable isotopes analysis can assist in the understanding of trophic interactions and use of food resources by aquatic organisms. The local ecological knowledge (LEK) of fishers can be an alternative to advance understanding about fish trophic interactions and to construct aquatic food webs, especially in regions lacking research capacity. The objectives of this study are: to calculate the trophic levels of six fish species important to fishing by combining data from stable isotopes analysis and fishers’ LEK in two clear water rivers (Tapajós and Tocantins) in the Brazilian Amazon; to compare the trophic levels of these fish between the two methods (stable isotopes analysis and LEK) and the two rivers; and to develop diagrams representing the trophic webs of the main fish prey and predators based on fisher’s LEK. The fish species studied were Pescada (Plagioscion squamosissimus), Tucunaré (Cichla pinima), Piranha (Serrasalmus rhombeus), Aracu (Leporinus fasciatus), Charuto (Hemiodus unimaculatus) and Jaraqui (Semaprochilodus spp.). A total of 98 interviews and 63 samples for stable isotopes analysis were carried out in both rivers. The average fish trophic levels did not differ between the stable isotopes analysis and the LEK in the Tapajós, nor in the Tocantins Rivers. The overall trophic level of the studied fish species obtained through the LEK did not differ from data obtained through the stable isotopes analysis in both rivers, except for the Aracu in the Tapajós River. The main food items consumed by the fish according to fishers’ LEK did agree with fish diets as described in the biological literature. Fishers provided useful information on fish predators and feeding habits of endangered species, such as river dolphin and river otter. Collaboration with fishers through LEK studies can be a viable approach to produce reliable data on fish trophic ecology to improve fisheries management and species conservation in tropical freshwater environments and other regions with data limitations.

*Lab members: Mark Poesch. Check out opportunities in the lab!

Castaneda, R.A., Ackerman, J.D., Chapman, L.J., Cooke, S.J., Cuddington, K., Dextrase, A., Jackson, D.A., Koops, M.A., Krkosek, M., Loftus, K., Mandrak, N.E., Martel, A.L., Molnar, P., Morris, T.J., Pitcher, T.E., Poesch, M.S., Power, M., Pratt, T.C., Reid, S.M., Rodriguez, M.A., Rosenfeld, J., Wilson, C., Zanatta, D.T. and D.A.R. Drake. (2021) Approaches and research needs for advancing the protection and recovery of imperilled freshwater fishes and mussels in Canada. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.

Citation: Castaneda, R.A., Ackerman, J.D., Chapman, L.J., Cooke, S.J., Cuddington, K., Dextrase, A., Jackson, D.A., Koops, M.A., Krkosek, M., Loftus, K., Mandrak, N.E., Martel, A.L., Molnar, P., Morris, T.J., Pitcher, T.E., Poesch, M.S., Power, M., Pratt, T.C., Reid, S.M., Rodriguez, M.A., Rosenfeld, J., Wilson, C., Zanatta, D.T. and D.A.R. Drake. (2021) Approaches and research needs for advancing the protection and recovery of imperilled freshwater fishes and mussels in Canada. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.

Abstract

Effective conservation requires that species recovery measures are informed by rigorous scientific research. For imperilled freshwater fishes and mussels in Canada, numerous research gaps exist, in part owing to the need for specialized research methods. The Canadian Freshwater Species at Risk Research Network (SARNET) was formed, and identified or implemented approaches to address current research gaps, including: 1) captive experimental research populations; 2) non-lethal methods for estimating abundance and distribution; 3) non-lethal field methods to measure life-history parameters; 4) species distribution models informed by co-occurring species; 5) integration of conservation physiology into habitat and threat science; 6) evidence syntheses to evaluate threats and recovery strategies; 7) disease-transmission models to understand mussel-host relationships; 8) experimental mesocosms and manipulative experiments to evaluate key habitat stressors; 9) threat and hazard models for predictive applications; and, 10) rigorous evaluation of surrogate species. Over a dozen threat and recovery-focused SARNET-research applications are summarized, demonstrating the value of a coordinated research program between academics and government to advance scientific research on, and to support the recovery of, imperilled freshwater species.

*Lab members: Mark Poesch. Check out opportunities in the lab!

Nelson-Chorney, H.*, Carli, C.M., Davis, C.S., Vinebrooke, R.D., Poesch, M.S., and M.K. Taylor (2019) Environmental DNA in lake sediment reveals biogeography of native genetic diversity. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 17: 313-318.

Citation: Nelson-Chorney, H., Carli, C.M., Davis, C.S., Vinebrooke, R.D., Poesch, M.S., and M.K. Taylor (2019) Environmental DNA in lake sediment reveals biogeography of native genetic diversity. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 17: 313-318.

Abstract

Understanding the historical distributions of species is vital to the conservation and restoration of native species, yet such information is often qualitative. We show that the paleolimnological history of threatened freshwater fishes can be reconstructed using species‐diagnostic markers amplified from environmental DNA deposited in lake sediments (lake sedDNA). This method was validated through the detection of lake sedDNA from non‐native trout (Yellowstone cutthroat trout, Oncorhynchus clarkii bouvieri), which corroborated historical records of human‐mediated introductions. We also discovered native trout (westslope cutthroat trout, Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi) lake sedDNA that predated human‐mediated introductions of freshwater fishes in a watershed with high topographical relief. This unexpected result revealed that the westslope population was of native origin and requires immediate conservation protection. Our findings demonstrate that lake sedDNA can be used to determine the colonization history of freshwater fishes and the structure of ecosystems, aiding in the identification of native ranges, novel native diversity, and introductions of non‐native species. 

*Lab members:   Hedin Nelson-Chorney, Mark Poesch. Check out opportunities in the lab!

Lamothe,K.A., Drake, D.A.R., Pitcher, T.E., Broome, J.E., Dextrase, A.J., Gillespie, A., Mandrak, N.E., Poesch, M.S., Reid, S.M. and N. Vachon. (2019) Reintroduction of fishes in Canada: a review of research progress for SARA-listed species. Environmental Reviews 27(4): 575-599.

Citation: Lamothe,K.A., Drake, D.A.R., Pitcher, T.E., Broome, J.E., Dextrase, A.J., Gillespie, A., Mandrak, N.E., Poesch, M.S., Reid, S.M. and N. Vachon. (2019) Reintroduction of fishes in Canada: a review of research progress for SARA-listed species. Environmental Reviews 27(4): 575-599.

Abstract

Fishes are among the most threatened taxa in Canada with over 70 species, subspecies, and/or Designatable Units presently listed for protection under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Protecting these species requires a diverse set of strategies based on the best-available data and information. One strategy identified in Canadian federal recovery strategies for improving the status of SARA-listed fishes is species reintroduction, which involves the release of individuals into areas from which they have been extirpated with the goal of re-establishing self-sustaining populations. The success of reintroduction relies on a comprehensive understanding of species life history and ecology, with considerations around population genetics and genomics. However, SARA-listed species are some of the most poorly known species in Canada due to their rarity and relative lack of research investment prior to the enactment of SARA. As a result, SARA-listed species have the most to lose if reintroduction activities are not carefully researched, planned, and executed. Therefore, the purpose of this review is to present an accessible summary on the state of reintroduction science for SARA-listed fishes in Canada with the hope of motivating future research to support reintroduction activities. We focus our review on 14 SARA-listed freshwater or anadromous fishes identified as candidates for reintroduction in federal recovery strategies. We follow our species-specific summaries with guidance on how basic research questions in population ecology, habitat science, and threat science provide a critical foundation for addressing knowledge gaps in reintroduction science. Subsequently, we identify the importance of genetic and genomic techniques for informing future research on the reintroduction of SARA-listed species. We conclude with recommendations for active, experimental approaches for moving reintroduction efforts forward for recovering Canadian fishes.

Voted as Editor’s Choice for 2019!

Rudolfsen, T.*, Ruppert, J.W.R.*, Davis, C., Taylor, R., Watkinson, D. and M.S. Poesch (2019) Habitat use and hybridization between the Rocky Mountain Sculpin (Cottus sp.) and Slimy Sculpin (Cottus cognatus). Freshwater Biology 64(3): 391-404.

Citation: Rudolfsen, T.*, Ruppert, J.W.R.*, Davis, C., Taylor, R., Watkinson, D. and M.S. Poesch (2019) Habitat use and hybridization between the Rocky Mountain Sculpin (Cottus sp.) and Slimy Sculpin (Cottus cognatus). Freshwater Biology 64(3): 391-404.

Abstract

Anthropogenic factors such as land-use change, pollution and climate change, can cause fragmentation and reduce the amount of habitat by altering preferred conditions. This process can also bring about novel species interactions and, in some cases, create or alter levels of hybridization between closely related species. We assessed the threat of hybridization to persistence of the Rocky Mountain Sculpin (Cottus sp.) and the Slimy Sculpin (Cottus cognatus) in the Flathead River drainage, British Columbia, Canada. Using 731 genetic samples, 10 polymorphic microsatellite loci and mitochondrial cytochrome C oxidase sequences, we assessed: (1) if there are differences in the distribution of Rocky Mountain Sculpin between contemporary and historical (35 years ago) records, (2) if hybridization is symmetrical in terms of sex specific parental contributions, and (3) if habitat preferences contribute to the distribution of pure parental and hybrid populations. We identified three hybrid locations and found that Rocky Mountain Sculpin have a distribution (1200 – 1902 m) that far exceeds the range limit reported 35 years ago (1200 – 1372 m). Additionally, hybrid mating appears to involve similar proportions of parents of both sexes from each species. Lastly, elevation, water conductivity, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen are significant factors predicting the presence of parental species. Only elevation was significant to hybrid presence. The contrasting associations of parental species with different habitat types appears to influence the extent and distribution of hybridization.

*Lab members:   Tyana Rudolfsen,  Jonathan Ruppert, Mark Poesch. Check out opportunities in the lab!

Neufeld, K.*, Watkinson, D., Tierney, K. and M.S. Poesch. (2018) Incorporating connectivity in measures of habitat suitability to assess impacts of hydrologic alteration to stream fish. Diversity and Distributions 24: 593-604.

Citation: Neufeld, K.*, Watkinson, D., Tierney, K. and M.S. Poesch. (2018) Incorporating connectivity in measures of habitat suitability to assess impacts of hydrologic alteration to stream fish. Diversity and Distributions 24: 593-604.

Abstract

Hydrologic alterations are widespread in freshwater ecosystems worldwide and often detrimentally impact fish populations. Habitat suitability models are commonly used to assess these impacts, but these models frequently rely upon observed fish–habitat relationships rather than more mechanistic underpinnings. The aim of this study was to demonstrate how to incorporate swim performance into a measure of habitat connectivity at a fine scale, providing a method for assessing the availability of suitable habitat for stream fishes. We applied this technique to an endangered species, the Western Silvery Minnow Hybognathus argyritis, in the Milk River of southern Alberta, Canada. The Milk River is an augmented system, where a diversion in nearby St. Mary River augments flow by a factor >3 × (from 1–5 m3/s to 15–20 m3/s). We used laboratory measured swim performance of Western Silvery Minnow to develop a movement cost function that was used in conjunction with a habitat suitability model to assess habitat availability via a recently developed graph-theoretic metric, equivalent connected area (ECA). Stream augmentation altered not only habitat suitability but also habitat connectivity for this species. During augmentation, suitable habitat area declined by 81.3%. Changes in habitat connectivity were site dependent. Movement costs between habitat patches were lower during augmentation due to current-assisted dispersal and increased distance to patches during natural flows from dried streambeds. When movement costs were incorporated into ECA, ECA decreased by 78.0% during augmentation.With changing climate and increasing anthropogenic impacts on aquatic ecosystems, understanding how freshwater fishes relate to their habitat is critical for appropriate management. In many cases, such as the Western Silvery Minnow, mitigating habitat suitability may not be sufficient, as species are unable to reach suitable habitat. The incorporation of swim performance into habitat connectivity assessments, as carried out here, can be easily adapted to other species and situations and can improve the understanding of impacts to stream fishes and increase the effectiveness of mitigation efforts.

*Lab members: Kenton NeufeldMark Poesch. Check out opportunities in the lab!

Movement Cost of Western Silvery Minnow under Augment (top) and Natural (bottom) Flow Conditions

Rudolfsen, T.*, Watkinson, D. and Poesch, M.S. (2018) Morphological divergence of the Threatened Rocky Mountain sculpin (Cottus sp.) is driven by biogeography and flow regime. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 28: 78-86.

Citation: Rudolfsen, T.*, Watkinson, D. and Poesch, M.S. (2018) Morphological divergence of the Threatened Rocky Mountain sculpin (Cottus sp.) is driven by biogeography and flow regime. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 28: 78-86.

Abstract

Stream hydrology is considered the primary factor in structuring freshwater fish communities,influencing stream habitats, food resources, and life‐history characteristics. Changes in stream hydrology, from climate change and anthropogenic sources (e.g. dams, irrigation channels), are thought to have adverse impacts on many freshwater species. The Rocky Mountain Sculpin (Cottus sp.) is a threatened species in Canada. Phenotypes of Rocky Mountain Sculpin were compared across a gradient of four streams differing in stream hydrology. It was hypothesized that Rocky Mountain Sculpin would show body forms minimizing drag in higher flow environments. Using geometric morphometrics and meristic counts, body shape, fin rays, and sensory pores were compared. As hypothesized, high‐flow river systems were correlated with sculpin with more dorso‐ventrally compressed, slender body shapes that minimized resistance to flow (P<0.001). Rocky Mountain Sculpin had more pectoral fin rays in populations with higher flows than lower flows,potentially allowing them to increase friction when gripping onto the substrate (P<0.001), and more anteriorly and dorsally located head pores to improve detection of floating prey (P<0.001). Biogeographic isolation and difference in flow regime were the likely basis for the observed morphological variation. The degree to which these phenotypes become fixed is unknown;however, since phenotypic diversity parallels genetic diversity in Rocky Mountain Sculpin,there is the possibility that persistent selection of these phenotypes can make it difficult to adapt to rapidly changing habitat conditions, such as changing flow. This study emphasizes the importance of considering phenotypic and morphological variation when evaluating how best to mitigate anthropogenic stressors and their impact on freshwater fishes.

* Lab members: Tyana RudolfsenMark Poesch. Check out opportunities in the lab!

Flow Regime across the range of Rocky Mountain Sculpin

Morphological Differences Across Populations (Dorsal view) of Rocky Mountain Sculpin