Hydrological drought and the role of refugia in an endangered riffle-dwelling fish, Nooksack dace (Rhinichthys cataractae ssp.)
Understanding the impacts of hydrological drought, and the role that refugia play in mitigating these impacts, is crucial to the conservation of freshwater fishes. This is especially true for species adapted to riffles, which are typically the first habitats to dewater at low discharge. We examined the relationship among decreasing stream discharge, abundance, and habitat use for Nooksack dace (Rhinichthys cataractae ssp.), an endangered riffle-dwelling species. A complementary experimental manipulation examined the effects of flow on growth rate across a discharge gradient in riffle and pool habitats. We found that low-velocity habitats and decreased discharge in experimental channels result in reduced dace growth and that decreasing stream flow was coincident with declines in Nooksack dace abundance. This study demonstrates the sensitivity of Nooksack dace to hydrological drought, and insofar as Nooksack dace are ecologically typical of small riffle-dwelling invertivore fishes, our results suggest that use of pools does not mitigate sublethal effects of declining flows on growth, although pools may provide refuge from the most negative effects of drought (i.e., stranding of fish).