Smallmouth Bass Summer Habitat Use, Movement, and Survival in Response to Low Flow in the Illinois Bayou, Arkansas

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The southwestern edge of the natural range of smallmouth bass Micropterus dolomieu contains streams that become disconnected pools during summer primarily owing to hydrogeologic conditions, including high evapotranspiration rates. These conditions may complicate fisheries management by affecting fish behavior or mortality rates. The objectives of this study were to characterize summer habitat use by smallmouth bass, estimate the changes in the extent of available habitat, describe summer movement patterns, and estimate summer survival rates. Radio transmitters were implanted into 60 smallmouth bass during May 2006, and the fish were tracked until October in the forks of the Illinois Bayou, which drains a portion of the Ozark National Forest. Habitat characteristics were measured as the summer progressed, and during this time most riffle–run habitat dried completely, resulting in a series of disconnected pools. The decreases in wetted area exceeded 55% in certain 2-km study reaches; however, smallmouth bass were consistently found at a median depth of 0.80 m. Boulder habitat was preferred when it was available; however, cobble, gravel, and bedrock substrates were also used. By July, velocity was below detection levels and water temperature occasionally exceeded 308C. The average distance moved by smallmouth bass was 270 m in May, decreasing to 54 m by July. The distances moved were greater on average but more variable in streams with larger losses of wetted area, as fish moved away from drying areas. The survival rate was lowest in the stream most accessible to anglers. Dryness appeared to increase mortality, as survival estimates were lower than expected from published studies of streams with continuous summer flow. The effective management of fisheries under such hydrologic conditions may require preserving continuous surface flow and the quality of remnant pools as well as implementing more restrictive harvest regulations in summer.



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North American Journal of Fisheries Management

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