Health and condition of endangered juvenile Lost River and shortnose suckers relative to water quality and fish assemblages in Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon, and Clear Lake Reservoir, California

Open-File Report 2015-1217
By: , and 


Executive Summary

Most mortality of endangered Lost River (Deltistes luxatus) and shortnose (Chasmistes brevirostris) suckers in Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon, appears to occur within the first year of life. However, juvenile suckers in Clear Lake Reservoir, California, appear to survive longer and may even recruit to the spawning populations. Our goal in this study was to develop productive lines of inquiry into the causes of mortality of juvenile suckers, especially in Upper Klamath Lake, through comparison of sucker health and environmental conditions in both lakes. The health of juvenile suckers was associated with physical, biological, and chemical characteristics in each lake from July to September 2013 and 2014.

Water-quality dynamics differed substantially between lakes. Diel fluctuations were greater for dissolved-oxygen concentrations and pH in Upper Klamath Lake than in Clear Lake Reservoir, but diel temperature fluctuations were greater in Clear Lake Reservoir. Minimum dissolved-oxygen concentrations were as low as 1.0 milligram per liter (mg/L) in Upper Klamath Lake, but were no lower than 5.7 mg/L in Clear Lake Reservoir. Unionized ammonia (NH3) concentrations were near or less than the minimum reporting limit of 0.002 mg/L NH3 in Clear Lake Reservoir and generally were less than the concentration known to cause cellular changes to the gills or mortality of suckers in Upper Klamath Lake. Concentrations of microcystins were less than the detection limit (≤0.10 microgram per liter [μg/L]) in both dissolved (<63 micrometers [μm]) and particulate (≥63 μm) fractions of water samples collected from Clear Lake Reservoir in both years. In Upper Klamath Lake, concentrations of microcystins were relatively low in the 2013 particulate fractions and dissolved fractions of samples in both years, but as high as 44.30 μg/L, more than 44 times the World Health Organization recommended levels for drinking water (1 μg/L), in the 2014 particulate fraction. However, there was little histological evidence and no chemical evidence that these concentrations in water were harmful to suckers that we captured.

The species and age compositions of juvenile sucker populations differed between lakes. A total of 98 percent of all juvenile suckers captured in Upper Klamath Lake were age-0. In contrast, as many as six age classes of suckers were represented in Clear Lake Reservoir, indicating much better juvenile survival than in Upper Klamath Lake. Based on genetic species identification, 98 percent of juvenile suckers collected from Clear Lake Reservoir were shortnose or Klamath largescale suckers (Catostomus snyderi). In contrast, there was a high degree of apparent genetic hybridization in juvenile suckers collected from Upper Klamath Lake, and both Lost River and non-Lost River juvenile suckers were nearly equally represented in samples.

Neither gross nor histological examination revealed a high prevalence of abnormalities in suckers that might indicate a mechanism for juvenile mortality in Upper Klamath Lake. Therefore, high mortality primarily may have occurred outside our study period (for example, in spring or over winter), or was owing to a factor that could not be detected with our methods (for example, predation). Alternatively, abnormalities in a small percentage of passively captured suckers in Upper Klamath Lake may indicate health-related issues that were more prevalent in populations than in our samples. Some apparent symptoms of stress or exposure to irritants, such as peribiliary cuffing in hepatocytes and mild inflammation and necrosis in gill tissues, were present in suckers from both lakes and do not appear to be clues to the cause of differential mortality between lakes. Seasonal trends in energy storage as glycogen and triglycerides were similar between lakes, indicating prey availability was not a factor in differential mortality.

Differences in sucker health and condition between lakes were considered the most promising clues to the causes of differential juvenile sucker morality between lakes. A low prevalence of petechial hemorrhaging of the skin (16 percent) and deformed opercula (8 percent) in Upper Klamath Lake suckers may indicate exposure to a toxin other than microcystin. Suckers grew slower in their first year of life, but had similar or greater triglyceride and glycogen levels in Upper Klamath Lake compared to Clear Lake Reservoir. These findings do not suggest a lack of prey quantity but may indicate lower prey quality in Upper Klamath Lake.

Suggested Citation

Burdick, S.M., Elliott, D.G., Ostberg, C.O., Conway, C.M., Dolan-Caret, A., Hoy, M.S., Feltz, K.P., and Echols, K.R., 2015, Health and condition of endangered juvenile Lost River and shortnose suckers relative to water quality and fish assemblages in Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon, and Clear Lake Reservoir, California: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2015-1217, 56 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Background
  • Description of Study Area
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Health and condition of endangered juvenile Lost River and shortnose suckers relative to water quality and fish assemblages in Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon, and Clear Lake Reservoir, California
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2015-1217
DOI 10.3133/ofr20151217
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston VA
Contributing office(s) Western Fisheries Research Center
Description vi, 56 p.
Country United States
State California, Oregon
Other Geospatial Upper Klamath Lake, Clear Lake Reservoir
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details