The Nature Conservancy undertook restoration of the Williamson River Delta Preserve with a primary goal "to restore and maintain the diversity of habitats that are essential to the endangered [Lost River sucker (Deltistes luxatus) and shortnose sucker (Chasmistes brevirostris)] while, at the same time, minimizing disturbance and adverse impacts" (David Evans and Associates, 2005). The Western Fisheries Research Center of the U.S. Geological Survey was asked by the Bureau of Reclamation to assist The Nature Conservancy in assessing the use of the restoration by larval and juvenile suckers. We identified five obtainable objectives to gauge the habitat suitability for young-of-year suckers in the permanently flooded portions of the two most recently restored sections (Goose Bay and Tulana) of the Williamson River Delta Preserve (hereafter referred to as the Preserve) and its effects on the distribution and health of larval and juvenile suckers. Several of these objectives were met through collaborations with The Nature Conservancy, Oregon State University, Oregon Water Science Center, and Leetown Science Center.
Our findings were in concurrence with those of The Nature Conservancy, who found that the Preserve supported young-of-year suckers at least as well as adjacent lake habitats (Erdman and others, 2011) despite the prevalence of non-native and piscivorous species in the system. The Preserve was recolonized by all fishes in the regional species pool, both native and non-native, between the time each portion of the Preserve (Goose Bay and Tulana) was inundated in autumn and the following spring. A large number of fish capable of preying on endangered larval suckers and a few fish that could prey on juvenile suckers were captured in the Preserve, but these species were no more abundant in the Preserve than in adjacent lakes.
Larvae and age-0, age-1, and age-2 juvenile Lost River and shortnose suckers were captured in the Preserve, Upper Klamath Lake, and Agency Lake, indicating that these species reared in restored and unaltered lake habitats. We captured too few larval suckers to examine patterns in spatial or temporal distribution. Once endangered suckers transitioned into juveniles, as defined by morphological development, they continued to disperse from shallow to deep water throughout the Preserve and into adjacent lakes. Age-1 and age-2 suckers captured throughout the Preserve and in adjacent lake habitats, especially in spring, show continued use of restored habitat by these species.
Quantitative examination of habitat use by age-0 juvenile suckers that accounted for imperfect detection indicated the portion of habitat used increased throughout July and August each year until the entire study area was used by one or more age-0 juvenile suckers by the end of August. Our rigorous evaluation showed both restored Preserve and unaltered lake habitats were equally used by age-0 juvenile suckers. Although all sampled habitats were used, multi-state occupancy models indicated that more age-0 suckers occupied shallow rather than deep habitats within the range of depths we sampled (0.5–4.3 m).
We were unable to compare health and condition of juvenile suckers among habitats, due to their movement among habitats. However, documentation of length-weight relationships, afflictions and deformities, and histology indicated juvenile suckers captured in all habitats maintained a similar level of health among the 3 years of our study.