Water in the Little Colorado River within Grand Canyon is naturally high in salt (NaCl), which is known to prohibit development of external fish parasites such as Ich (Ichthyophthirius multifiliis). The naturally high salinity (>0.3%) of the Little Colorado River at baseflow may be one factor allowing survival and persistence of larval and juvenile humpback chub (Gila cypha) and other native fishes in Grand Canyon. We compared salinity readings from the Little Colorado River to those reported in the literature as being effective at removing protozoan parasites from fish. In laboratory tests, 10 juvenile roundtail chub (Gila robusta; 61–90 mm TL) were randomly placed into each of 12, 37-L aquaria filled with freshwater, water obtained from the Little Colorado River (0.3% salinity), or freshwater with table salt added until the salinity reached 0.3%. Roundtail chub was used as a surrogate for humpback chub in this study because the species is not listed as endangered but is morphologically and ecologically similar to humpback chub. All roundtail chub infected with Ich recovered and survived when placed in water from the Little Colorado River or water with 0.3% salinity, but all experimental fish placed in freshwater died because of Ich infection. The naturally high salinity of the Little Colorado River at baseflow (0.22%–0.36%), appears sufficiently high to interrupt the life cycle of Ich and may allow increased survival of larval and juvenile humpback chub relative to other areas within Grand Canyon.
Additional publication details
Salinity of the Little Colorado River in Grand Canyon confers anti-parasitic properties on a native fish