Influence of basin-scale physical variables on life history characteristics of cutthroat trout in Yellowstone Lake

Gresswell, R.E., Liss, W.J., Larson, G.L. and Bartlein, P.J.

Fisheries Management, Vol. 17 Issue 4 pp. 1046-1064


Individual spawning populations of Yellowstone cutthroat trout Oncorhynchus clarki bouvieri differ in life history characteristics associated with broad spatial and temporal environmental patterns, but relationships between specific life history characteristics of Yellowstone cutthroat trout and physical aspects of the environment are poorly understood. We examined basin‐scale physical characteristics of tributary drainages and subbasins of Yellowstone Lake in relation to timing (peak and duration) of lacustrine–adfluvial Yellowstone cutthroat trout spawning migrations and mean length of cutthroat trout spawners in 27 tributaries to the lake. Stream drainages varied along gradients that can be described by mean aspect, mean elevation, and drainage and stream size. Approximately two‐thirds of the variation in the timing of the peak of the annual cutthroat trout spawning migrations and average length of spawners was explained by third‐order polynomial regressions with mean aspect and basin area as predictor variables. Because most cutthroat trout ascend tributaries soon after peak runoff, it appears that the influence of basin‐scale physical variables on the date of the migration peak is manifested by the pattern of stream discharge. Spawner length does not seem to be a direct function of stream size in the Yellowstone Lake watershed, and aspect of the tributary basin seems to have a greater influence on the body length of cutthroat trout spawners than does stream size. Mechanisms that explain how the interaction of basin‐scale physical variables influence spawner length were not investigated directly; however, we found evidence of distinct aggregations of cutthroat trout that are related to physical and limnological characteristics of the lake subbasins, and there is some indication that lake residence may be related to tributary location.

Patrick Cross1997