, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 437-455
Date: 15 Sep 2011

Translocation of stream-dwelling salmonids in headwaters: insights from a 15-year reintroduction experience

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Abstract

Translocation programs are a common strategy to increase the number of viable populations of threatened freshwater fishes. Yet, only in a minority of cases the success or failure of translocations has been assessed through a quantitative analysis of demographic traits, compensatory responses, life-histories and population dynamics of the threatened species. A paradigmatic case a translocation program combining both management- and research-oriented activities is represented by the Marble Trout Conservation Program, which started in 1993 in the upper reaches of the Soca, Idirjca and Baca river basins (Slovenia) for the conservation of stream-dwelling marble trout Salmo marmoratus. In order to enhance the viability of the species, two new populations were created in 1996 by stocking 500 marble trout aged 1+ in previously fishless streams (Gorska and Zakojska) within the core habitat of the species. The new populations have been systematically monitored for 15 years by individually tagging and sampling marble trout. Our analyses show that deterministic extinction of marble trout populations are unlikely and that high-magnitude environmental stochasticity (i.e., severe floods) is the only main cause of local population extinction, despite the high resilience to flood-induced massive mortalities exhibited by marble trout through compensatory mechanisms (e.g., relaxation of density-dependent body growth and survival at low densities). Fishless headwaters, probably characterized by a history of recurrent severe floods, should not be considered as candidate sites for the creation of new populations. Fewer individuals than originally reintroduced (i.e., 500 fish aged 1+ in each stream) might be sufficient to establish viable populations, since compensatory mechanisms are likely to regulate population size around stream carrying capacity in a few years. Besides enhancing the species viability, translocation programs can provide an excellent framework for the estimation of ecological traits (e.g., life-histories, demography, population dynamics etc.), identify potential vulnerabilities and thus guide well-formed management actions for the threatened species.