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Predicting Fish Growth Potential and Identifying Water Quality Constraints: A Spatially-Explicit Bioenergetics Approach

Abstract

Anthropogenic impairment of water bodies represents a global environmental concern, yet few attempts have successfully linked fish performance to thermal habitat suitability and fewer have distinguished co-varying water quality constraints. We interfaced fish bioenergetics, field measurements, and Thermal Remote Imaging to generate a spatially-explicit, high-resolution surface of fish growth potential, and next employed a structured hypothesis to detect relationships among measures of fish performance and co-varying water quality constraints. Our thermal surface of fish performance captured the amount and spatial-temporal arrangement of thermally-suitable habitat for three focal species in an extremely heterogeneous reservoir, but interpretation of this pattern was initially confounded by seasonal covariation of water residence time and water quality. Subsequent path analysis revealed that in terms of seasonal patterns in growth potential, catfish and walleye responded to temperature, positively and negatively, respectively; crappie and walleye responded to eutrophy (negatively). At the high eutrophy levels observed in this system, some desired fishes appear to suffer from excessive cultural eutrophication within the context of elevated temperatures whereas others appear to be largely unaffected or even enhanced. Our overall findings do not lead to the conclusion that this system is degraded by pollution; however, they do highlight the need to use a sensitive focal species in the process of determining allowable nutrient loading and as integrators of habitat suitability across multiple spatial and temporal scales. We provide an integrated approach useful for quantifying fish growth potential and identifying water quality constraints on fish performance at spatial scales appropriate for whole-system management.

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Acknowledgments

Financial support was provided by the Utah Division of Environmental Quality, Division of Water Quality, The Nature Conservancy, The Ecology Center at Utah State University, and the U.S. Geological Survey, Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit (in-kind). Special thanks to Gary Thiede for technical support, logistical oversight, and special assistance in manuscript preparation and to Christy Meredith for generating the map. Thanks also to our field crews, lab technicians, and graduate students in the Fish Ecology Lab at Utah State University. Edward W. Evans reviewed previous drafts of this manuscript. Mention of brand names in this manuscript does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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Correspondence to Phaedra Budy.

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Budy, P., Baker, M. & Dahle, S.K. Predicting Fish Growth Potential and Identifying Water Quality Constraints: A Spatially-Explicit Bioenergetics Approach. Environmental Management 48, 691 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-011-9717-1

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Keywords

  • Fish performance
  • Water quality
  • Structured hypotheses
  • Water temperature
  • Eutrophication
  • Clean water act
  • Thermal remote imaging (TIR)
  • Bioenergetics