Response of Endangered Desert Fish Populations to a Constructed Refuge

  • Winemiller K
  • Anderson A
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The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation created a shallow, 110-m channel to provide habitat for two endangered fishes, Cyprinodon elegans (Comanche Springs pupfish) and Gambusia nobilis (Pecos gambusia), at the site of the fishes' former natural habitat. The cienega (marsh) associated with Phantom Lake Spring in Jeff Davis County, Texas, was destroyed by the creation of an irrigation canal system. In 1993, the endangered fishes were stocked into the refuge with individuals from the irrigation canals, and in the case of C. elegans, hatchery stocks. The condition of habitat, status of fish populations, and fish ecology within the refuge were then monitored for two years. The abundance and density of both species increased in accordance with aquatic plant development. Cyprinodon elegans abundance peaked after one year and stabilized at an average density of 14.7/m super(2) by the end of our study. Juvenile C. elegans were always rare, which may indicate that the population reached the refuge's carrying capacity and that recruitment is low. Gambusia nobilis was the most abundant fish in the refuge (average density 96/m super(2)), used the entire refuge, and outcompeted nonindigenous G. geiseri. The two Gambusia species used similar habitats but showed almost no dietary overlap. High densities of aquatic plants reduced the amount of open water areas necessary for C. elegans. The refuge will sustain the two endangered fishes at this historic site of endemism while maintaining flow to the irrigation system; however, the refuge is not equivalent to a restored cienega

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  • Kirk O. Winemiller

  • Allison a. Anderson

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