Moapa dace (Moapa coriacea) is a critically endangered thermophilic minnow native to the Muddy River ecosystem in southeastern Nevada, USA. Restricted to temperatures between 26.0 and 32.0°C, these fish are constrained to the upper two km of the Muddy River and several small tributaries fed by warm springs. Habitat alterations, nonnative species invasion, and water withdrawals during the 20th century resulted in a drastic decline in the dace population and in 1979 the Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) was created to protect them. The goal of our study was to determine the potential effects of reduced surface flows that might result from groundwater pumping or water diversions on Moapa dace habitat inside the Refuge. We accomplished our goal in several steps. First, we conducted snorkel surveys to determine the locations of Moapa dace on three warm-spring tributaries of the Muddy River. Second, we conducted hydraulic simulations over a range of flows with a two-dimensional hydrodynamic model. Third, we developed a set of Moapa dace habitat models with logistic regression and a geographic information system. Fourth, we estimated Moapa dace habitat over a range of flows (plus or minus 30% of base flow). Our spatially explicit habitat models achieved classification accuracies between 85% and 91%, depending on the snorkel survey and creek. Water depth was the most significant covariate in our models, followed by substrate, Froude number, velocity, and water temperature. Hydraulic simulations showed 2-11% gains in dace habitat when flows were increased by 30%, and 8-32% losses when flows were reduced by 30%. To ensure the health and survival of Moapa dace and the Muddy River ecosystem, groundwater and surface-water withdrawals and diversions need to be carefully monitored, while fully implementing a proactive conservation strategy.
Additional publication details
An ecohydraulic model to identify and monitor moapa dace habitat