Ultrasound imaging identifies life history variation in resident Cutthroat Trout

Kellie J. Carim, Scott Relyea, Craig Barfoot, Lisa A. Eby, John A. Kronenberger, Andrew R. Whiteley, Beau Larkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Human activities that fragment fish habitat have isolated inland salmonid populations. This isolation is associated with loss of migratory life histories and declines in population density and abundance. Isolated populations exhibiting only resident life histories may be more likely to persist if individuals can increase lifetime reproductive success by maturing at smaller sizes or earlier ages. Therefore, accurate estimates of age and size at maturity across resident salmonid populations would improve estimates of population viability. Commonly used methods for assessing maturity such as dissection, endoscopy and hormone analysis are invasive and may disturb vulnerable populations. Ultrasound imaging is a noninvasive method that has been used to measure reproductive status across fish taxa. However, little research has assessed the accuracy of ultrasound for determining maturation status of small-bodied fish, or reproductive potential early in a species' reproductive cycle. To address these knowledge gaps, we tested whether ultrasound imaging could be used to identify maturing female Westslope Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi). Our methods were accurate at identifying maturing females reared in a hatchery setting up to eight months prior to spawning, with error rates 4.0%; accuracy was greater for larger fish. We also imaged fish in a field setting to examine variation in the size of maturing females among six wild, resident populations of Westslope Cutthroat Trout in western Montana. The median size of maturing females varied significantly across populations. We observed oocyte development in females as small as 109 mm, which is smaller than previously documented for this species. Methods tested in this study will allow researchers and managers to collect information on reproductive status of small-bodied salmonids without disrupting fish during the breeding season. This information can help elucidate life history traits that promote persistence of isolated salmonid populations.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0246365
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2 February
StatePublished - Feb 2021


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