Hybrid Trout Threaten Montana's Native Cutthroats

May 29, 2014

Temperatures are on the rise in parts of the United States and many local species have felt the effects, including the cutthroat trout. As a result of climate change, nonnative rainbow trout have begun moving upstream to cutthroat spawning grounds (waters that were previously too cold). Mating of the two species is resulting in hybrid trout that are less fit and have reduced ability to produce viable offspring.

Temperatures in parts of the U.S. are on the rise and many native species have found it hard to adjust, including the cutthroat trout, one of the American West’s prized fish.

As National Public Radio’s Christopher Joyce explains, these fish are particular about their spawning grounds. In Montana’s Shields Basin, they make their way up cold mountain streams, where the level of snowmelt creates optimal conditions. Previously, this water was a haven, too chilly for nonnative rainbow trout. But the temperature rise has shifted the equation. With warmer water upstream, rainbow trout are now moving to these previously off-limit locations and mating with cutthroats. This has led to a hybrid fish, which leaves researchers like WCS Biologist Brad Shepard concerned for the future.

Why? Recent research shows that the new hybrid species isn’t doing well and may die out, leaving fewer fish overall. The new hybrid fish also poses a threat to Montana’s valuable trout fishing industry, which brings in tens of millions of dollars a year, as many anglers are specific about wanting to catch native cutthroats.

Read the full article on NPR >>

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