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Open-File Report 2010–1261

Temporal and Spatial Distribution of Endangered Juvenile Lost River and Shortnose Suckers in Relation to Environmental Variables in Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon: 2009 Annual Data Summary

By Jared L. Bottcher and Summer M. Burdick


Lost River sucker (Deltistes luxatus) and shortnose sucker (Chasmistes brevirostris) were listed as endangered in 1988 for a variety of reasons including apparent recruitment failure. Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon, and its tributaries are considered the most critical remaining habitat for these two species. Age-0 suckers are often abundant in Upper Klamath Lake throughout the summer months, but catches decline dramatically between late August and early September each year. Similar declines of age-1 suckers between spring and late summer also occur annually. These rapid declines in catch rates and a lack of substantial recruitment into adult sucker populations in recent years suggests sucker populations experience high mortality between their first summer and first spawn.

Summer age-0 sucker habitat use and distribution have been studied extensively, but many uncertainties remain about age-1 and older juvenile habitat use, distribution, and movement patterns within Upper Klamath Lake. This study was designed to examine seasonal changes in distribution of age-1 suckers in Upper Klamath Lake as they relate to depth and water quality. The results of our third annual spring and summer sampling effort are presented in this report.

Catch data collected in 2009 indicate seasonal changes in age-1 and older juvenile sucker habitat use coincident with changes in water quality. Although age-1 sucker catch rates were again concentrated along the western shore in June and early July, as they were in 2007 and 2008, very few age-1 suckers were captured in Eagle Ridge Trench in 2009—a deepwater area along the western shore extending from Howard Bay to Eagle Ridge Point. Instead, suckers in 2009 were concentrated in the relatively shallow bays along the western shore. Nevertheless, as dissolved-oxygen concentrations decreased in mid-July below sublethal thresholds around the Eagle Ridge Trench, age-1 suckers apparently moved away from the western shore, and subsequently were captured in main lake areas and the eastern shore. Age-1 suckers were noticeably absent from the tributaries of Upper Klamath Lake during periods of chronically low dissolved-oxygen concentrations in the lake, refuting a previously untested hypothesis that tributaries were important age-1 sucker refuge habitats. In addition, declines in overall catch rates for age-1 suckers in August and September, despite intensive sampling, indicates that the apparent declines in abundance may be due to increased mortality and not due to sampling the wrong environments or poor detection probability.

The remote detection of an age-1 juvenile sucker tagged in Short Creek and subsequently recaptured in the Link River array, more than 30 kilometers away, indicates the capacity of juvenile suckers to migrate relatively long distances. This knowledge, coupled with other remotely detected suckers in the Williamson River, indicates that juvenile sucker movement in Upper Klamath Lake may be common. In order to better quantify movement and potentially survival, future research should focus on tagging more juvenile suckers and taking advantage of the significant passive integrated transponder tag infrastructure throughout Upper Klamath Lake and its tributaries.

In this data summary, we also describe the distribution of age-0 suckers in Upper Klamath Lake and its tributaries. These data corroborate findings from 2007 and 2008, which describe age-0 sucker habitat as shallow relative to depths available in Upper Klamath Lake. Similar to age-1 suckers, age-0 sucker abundances also appeared to decline in late summer, despite continued sampling throughout Upper Klamath Lake and its tributaries.

In addition to low dissolved-oxygen concentrations, increased opercle deformity and anchor worm (Lernaea spp.) infection rates, as well as increased abundances of fathead minnows and other piscivorous non-native fish, may provide potential insight into the causes of juvenile sucker rarity. Opercle deformity rates for age-0 suckers were relatively high for the third consecutive year and considerably higher than deformity rates for age-1 and older juveniles. Our brief description of the distribution and abundance of all other fish species caught provides a context in which to assess potential threats posed by non-native piscivores and the rarity of juvenile suckers within the fish community of Upper Klamath Lake.

First posted October 25, 2010

For additional information contact:
Director, Western Fisheries Research Center
U.S. Geological Survey
6505 NE 65th Street
Seattle, Washington 98115

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Suggested citation:

Bottcher, J.L., and Burdick, S.M., 2010, Temporal and spatial distribution of endangered juvenile Lost River and shortnose suckers in relation to environmental variables in Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon: 2009 annual data summary: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2010-1261, 42 p.


Executive Summary

Project Introduction and Background

Study Area


Results of Sample Collection and Data Summary



References Cited

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