Nathan Medinski, former M.Sc. Student
B.Sc. in Environmental and Conservation Sciences (University of Alberta)
Fisheries Biologist, Government of Alberta, Environment and Parks
Assessing the impacts of multiple ecological stressors on an endangered native salmonid, the Athabasca Rainbow Trout, in the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains (link).
Freshwater fish face a multitude of ecological stressors, which has resulted in substantial declines in aquatic biodiversity. The loss of aquatic biodiversity can lead to changes in ecosystem function, productivity and food web dynamics. One such imperiled freshwater fish is the Athabasca Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), a unique Rainbow Trout ecotype found in the upper reaches of the Athabasca River watershed, forming the only native Rainbow Trout population in Alberta. Athabasca Rainbow Trout have experienced widespread declines in abundance, with losses of approximately 90% over the last three generation, or approximately 15 years. Two of the main ecological stressors impacting Athabasca Rainbow Trout are competition with invasive Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) and habitat degradation associated with natural resource extraction developments in the region. For example, in 2013 the accidental breach of a tailings dam at the Obed coal mine near Hinton, Alberta, Canada, released 670,000 m3 of coal tailings material into Athabasca Rainbow Trout habitat. My goal in this thesis was to improve our understanding of ongoing impacts from multiple ecological stressors on Athabasca Rainbow Trout abundance and food resource use, inferred from sampling seven streams in the upper Athabasca River watershed. The specific objectives of this thesis were therefore to: 1) determine how this ecological stressor gradient has influenced Athabasca Rainbow Trout abundance in the foothills of west-central Alberta, and 2) understand how food resource utilization by Athabasca Rainbow Trout populations has been affected along a disturbance gradient associated with habitat degradation from the Obed mine tailings release and competition with invasive Brook Trout.