Spring-summer movements of bonytail in a Colorado River reservoir, Lake Mohave, Arizona and Nevada

Open-File Report 99-103




The bonytail Gila elegans is a large-river minnow (Cyprinid) endemic to the Colorado River system of western North America. The species is federally listed as endangered, its biology poorly understood, and relatively little is known of its movements. Two short-term telemetry studies were conducted during 1996 and 1997 to assess spring-summer temporal and spatial movement patterns in Lake Mohave, Arizona and Nevada, where the largest remaining population of bonytail persists. A total of 20 bonytail were implanted with 90-day sonic transmitters. Ten fish (5 wild-caught from the Lake and 5 cove-reared: 5 females and 5 males) were implanted in May 1996 and additional 10 (7 wild-caught and 3 pond-reared: 2 females and 8 males) were implanted in April 1997, released into the lake immediately after surgery, and tracked approximately weekly through August of both years.

Eight fish dispersed immediately after release in 1996, two moved up- and six moved down-lake. The five wild-caught fish moved down-lake as much as 42 km, and four of these (all males) remained in the lower most 5 km while the other (female) occupied an area about 10 km below the release site. Two cove fish moved up lake 15 and 43 km, respectively, while a third moved 4 km down-lake. Two fish were never contacted. Most locations were in shallow water along shorelines, in some instance within inundated stands of riparian vegetation.

In 1997, three pond fish were surgically implanted with transmitters and released at Cottonwood Cove, Nevada. Two were not contacted again, and the other was lost 12 days post-release after moving approximately 1.4 km across the lake. Seven wild fish were captured and released at two sites in the lower portion of the lake, and all moved to downstream areas where they remained for the duration of study. Contact was lost with one fish after 3 days and another remained stationary after 13 days; the five others were tracked for 62 to 119 days. These last fish remained in the lower lake and had net movement (displacement from release site to last contact location) that averaged 5.4 km and ranged from 4.7 to 6.9 km. All net displacements were downstream. Cumulative distance traveled averaged 28.9 km and ranged from 19.9 to 33.0 km. Most fish locations during daylight hours were in deep water adjacent to the steep Nevada shore, while nighttime locations were in shallow water along gently sloping Arizona shorelines.

Bonytail can move substantial distances in a short time (10s of km in a few days). Fish in both years apparently favored the same areas, where they may remain for weeks. Unmarked bonytail were observed or captured by setting nets in places favored by tagged fish, a significant result since future use of the technique may enhance our ability to monitor reintroductions, locate and document spawning, examine habitat use, and acquire desperately needed brood stock for this critically imperiled species. External tagging techniques developed for juvenile razorback sucker may provide a method of minimizing telemetry induced stress while allowing us to focus sampling on congregation sites.

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Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Spring-summer movements of bonytail in a Colorado River reservoir, Lake Mohave, Arizona and Nevada
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Fort Collins Science Center
ii, 26 p.
United States
Arizona, Nevada
Other Geospatial:
Lake Mohave
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