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Review and reinterpretation of Rio Grande silvery minnow reproductive ecology using egg biology, life history, hydrology, and geomorphology information


To inform management actions to recover the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow (Hybognathus amarus, RGSM), we (1) calculated the terminal settling velocities of newly expelled and water-hardened RGSM eggs for the observed range of suspended sediment concentrations and water temperatures in the Rio Grande, New Mexico, USA, and (2) reviewed RGSM reproductive ecology in the context of egg biology, the species’ life history, and the historic and contemporary hydrology and geomorphology of the Rio Grande. Results show that in a naturally functioning riverine environment, the location and timing of spawning, the ontogenic stage of egg development, and habitat-specific differences in sediment and temperature that influence egg-settling rates interact to (1) prevent egg suffocation, (2) promote egg entrainment in clear, warm, productive floodplain habitats, and (3) limit downstream population displacement. Our research suggests that the RGSM is primarily a demersal, floodplain spawning species that evolved eggs that are secondarily buoyant in high-sediment environments rather than a main channel, pelagic broadcast-spawning species with an evolved long-distance, downstream drift phase, as previously reported. The current high magnitude of egg drift is hypothesized to be an artefact of contemporary river management and channelization, leading to reduced lateral connectivity, floodplain abandonment, and habitat degradation. Conservation actions implemented to restore historic channel form and reconnect low-velocity backwater and floodplain habitats are recommended. In the absence of a documented upstream migration of adult fish, removal of barriers to a presumed upstream movement is unlikely to provide immediate benefits to RGSM.