Pure strain of greenback cutthroats found southwest of Colorado Springs





Here’s the release from the University of Colorado at Boulder (Jessica Metcalf/Andrew Martin/Jim Scott):

A novel genetic study led by the University of Colorado Boulder has helped to clarify the native diversity and distribution of cutthroat trout in Colorado, including the past and present haunts of the federally endangered greenback cutthroat trout.

The study, led by CU-Boulder postdoctoral researcher Jessica Metcalf, was based largely on DNA samples taken from cutthroat trout specimens preserved in ethanol in several U.S. museums around the country that were collected from around the state as far back as 150 years ago. The new study, in which Metcalf and her colleagues extracted mitochondrial DNA from fish to sequence genes of the individual specimens and compared them with modern-day cutthroat trout strains, produced some startling results.

The biggest surprise, said Metcalf, was that the cutthroat trout native to the South Platte River drainage appears to survive today only in a single population outside of its native range — in a small stream known as Bear Creek that actually is in the nearby Arkansas River drainage. The strain from Bear Creek is thought to have been collected from the South Platte River drainage in the 1880s by an early hotelier who stocked the fish in a pond at the Bear Creek headwaters to help promote an early tourist route up Pikes Peak.

“We thought one way to get to the question of which cutthroat trout strains are native to particular drainages was to go back to historical samples and use their DNA as a baseline of information,” said Metcalf of the chemistry and biochemistry department and a former postdoctoral researcher at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA. “Our study indicates the descendants of the fish that were stocked into Bear Creek in the late 1800s are the last remaining representatives of the federally protected greenback cutthroat trout.”

A second, key set of data was all of the Colorado cutthroat trout stocking records over the past 150 years, a task spearheaded by study co-author and fish biologist Chris Kennedy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Between 1889 and 1925, for example, the study showed that more than 50 million cutthroat trout from the Gunnison and Yampa river basins were stocked in tributaries of all major drainages in the state, jumbling the picture of native cutthroat strains in Colorado through time and space.

Originating from the Pacific Ocean, cutthroat trout are considered one of the most diverse fish species in North America and evolved into 14 recognized subspecies in western U.S. drainages over thousands of years. In Colorado, four lineages of cutthroats were previously identified: the greenback cutthroat, the Colorado River cutthroat, the Rio Grande cutthroat and the extinct yellowfin cutthroat.

The museum specimens used in the study came from the California Academy of Sciences, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and the Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology. Colorado cutthroat trout specimens were collected by a number of early naturalists, including Swiss scientist and former Harvard Professor Louis Agassiz and internationally known fish expert and founding Stanford University President David Starr Jordan.

The new study, published online today in Molecular Ecology, follows up on a 2007 study by Metcalf and her team that indicated there were several places on the Front Range where cutthroat populations thought to be greenbacks by fish biologists were actually a strain of cutthroats transplanted from Colorado’s Western Slope in the early 1900s.

Other co-authors on the new study included CU-Boulder Professor Andrew Martin and CU-Boulder graduate students Sierra Stowell, Daniel McDonald and Kyle Keepers; Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist Kevin Rogers; University of Adelaide scientists Alan Cooper and Jeremy Austin; and Janet Epp of Pisces Molecular LLC of Boulder.

“With the insight afforded by the historical data, we now know with a great deal of certainty what cutthroat trout strains were here in Colorado before greenbacks declined in the early 20th century,” said Martin of CU’s ecology and evolutionary biology department. “And we finally know what a greenback cutthroat trout really is.”

Metcalf and her colleagues first collected multiple samples of tissue and bone from each of the ethanol-pickled trout specimens, obtaining fragments of DNA that were amplified and then pieced together like a high-tech jigsaw puzzle to reveal two genes of the individual specimens. The tests were conducted on two different continents under highly sterile conditions and each DNA sequencing effort was repeated several times for many specimens to ensure accuracy in the study, Metcalf said.

Roughly half of the study was conducted at CU-Boulder and half at the Australian Center for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide, where Metcalf had worked for two years. “By conducting repeatable research at two very different, state-of-the-art laboratories, we were able to show the Bear Creek trout was the same strain as the cutthroats originally occupying the South Platte River drainage.”

The Bear Creek trout strain is now being propagated in the Colorado Parks and Wildlife hatchery system and at the USFWS Leadville National Fish Hatchery.

In addition to identifying the Bear Creek cutthroat trout, Metcalf and her colleagues discovered a previously unknown cutthroat strain native to the San Juan Basin in southwestern Colorado that has since gone extinct. The study also confirmed that the yellowfin cutthroat, a subspecies from the Arkansas River headwaters that grew to prodigious size in Twin Lakes near Leadville, also had gone extinct.

Fortunately, most fish preserved by naturalists before 1900 were “fixed” in ethanol, which makes it easier for researchers to obtain reliable DNA than from fish preserved in a formaldehyde solution, a practice that later became popular. Prior to the new study — which included DNA from specimens up to about 150 years old — scientists working in ancient DNA labs had only performed similar research on ethanol-preserved museum vertebrate specimens less than 100 years old.

“One of the exciting things to come from this research project is that it opens up the potential for scientists to sequence the genes of other fish, reptiles and amphibian specimens preserved in ethanol further back in time than ever before to answer ecological questions about past diversity and distribution,” said Metcalf, who conducts her research at CU’s BioFrontiers Institute.

Funding for the study was provided by agencies of the Greenback Cutthroat Trout Recovery Team, including the USFWS, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and Trout Unlimited.

“I think in many cases success depends less on the application of a new technology and more on the convergence of people with shared interest and complementary skills necessary for solving difficult problems,” said Martin. “Our greenback story is really one about what can be discovered when dedicated and talented people collaborate with a shared purpose.”

“We’ve known for some time that the trout in Bear Creek were unique,” said Doug Krieger, senior aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Greenback Cutthroat Trout Recovery Team leader. “But we didn’t realize they were the only surviving greenback population.”

The decline of native cutthroats in Colorado occurred because of a combination of pollution, overfishing and stocking of native and non-native species of trout, said Metcalf. “It’s ironic that stocking nearly drove the greenback cutthroat trout to extinction, and a particularly early stocking event actually saved it from extinction,” she said.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

“We’ve known for some time that the trout in Bear Creek were unique,” said Doug Krieger, senior aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, who led the team. “But we didn’t realize they were the only surviving greenback population.”

Greenback cutthroats — the official state fish — are native to the South Platte River basin. The Bear Creek population, currently estimated at about 750 of the state fish, survived in headwaters of the Arkansas River basin because, according to the study, they apparently were stocked there in the early 1880s by a hotel operator hoping to promote a tourist route up Pikes Peak.

CU authors of the study identified six cutthroat lineages native to Colorado — two, the yellowfin from the Arkansas and a lineage from the San Juan, are believed extinct. Biologists say the findings may lead to an overhaul of scientific understanding of the fish.

Forecast news: Snow — SNOW — expected above 11,000 feet


From 9News.com (Amelia Earhart) via The Denver Post:

The National Weather Service has issued a Special Weather Statement for the Gore and Elk Mountain Ranges, the West Sawatch Mountains and the San Juans above 11,000 feet. One to three inches of snow is possible – beginning Monday night through Tuesday morning. Below 11,000 feet, thunderstorms with cloud-to-ground lightning are possible as well.

Drought news: Miriam (Pacific hurricane) send us your moisture

From the Associated Press via Boston.com:

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Miriam is packing top sustained winds of 120 mph (165 kph), making it what’s classified as a major hurricane.

The hurricane formed a day earlier in the eastern Pacific and was centered about 410 miles (655 kms) south-southwest of the southern tip of the Baja peninsula.

The center says Miriam was moving northwest at 12 mph (19 kph). No coastal watches or warnings are in effect, but swells will hit Baja’s southern and western shore during the next couple of days.

Meanwhile, Horsetooth Reservoir is back on the rise, according to Bobby Magill writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Here’s an excerpt:

Since the middle of last week, Horsetooth Reservoir has risen more than two feet. Water officials have stopped filling Carter Lake and are sending water being pumped to the Front Range from the Western Slope directly into Horsetooth Reservoir, which is expected to continue rising slowly for the foreseeable future. “We hope to fill it by next spring,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

The reservoir is one of two primary sources of drinking water for the city of Fort Collins.

Aspen: The search is still on for an economic geothermal resource


From The Aspen Daily News (Andrew Travers):

The twice-suspended project had been set to resume this fall, but new drilling plans have yet to be finalized as September draws to a close, and remain in the works…

The prospect of tapping cheap, clean and renewable energy in underground Aspen water was encouraged by a 2008 city study, which found that water below town may be as warm as 140 degrees. Water warmer than 100 degrees could be used to heat homes or offices.

If the Prockter drilling site is successful, city officials have said they would want to find a second test drilling site before attempting to use the geothermal energy.

More geothermal coverage here and here.

Drought news: Gov. Hickenlooper authorizes relief for drought-stricken ranchers and livestock owners


Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office. Here’s an excerpt:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today announced he signed an Executive Order to suspend permits necessary to authorize transports of large baled hay or baled livestock feed which may exceed lawful maximum height.

“Large areas of Colorado have experienced devastating damage from drought. This has severely impacted the ability of Colorado livestock producers to acquire the requisite amount of feed for their animals,” the Executive Order says. “As winter approaches, such restrictions put Colorado livestock in severe danger and producers require immediate assistance to meet their feed requirements.”

The Executive Order suspends rules that prevent the State from issuing single-trip, extra-legal permits for divisible loads of “baled hay” or “baled livestock feed” of heights ranging from 14 feet, 6 inches to 15 feet. The Order will stay in effect until Oct. 21, 2012.

Forecast news: El Niño this year could keep major winter storms south of Interstate 70 — Joe Ramey (NWS)


From The Denver Post via the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

“I would suggest (skiers) take full advantage of the powder days and not take them for granted this season,” Ramey told the Steamboat Pilot. “The tendency (during El Niño years) is for snowstorms to be few and far between in Steamboat. But there’s lots of ways for my climate prediction to be wrong.”

Ramey bases his annual winter forecasts on snowfall data going back to 1950 and by following the state of El Niño.

Drought news: Public hearing tonight for Western Weather Consultants’ cloud-seeding application


Here’s the notice from the CWCB website:

The CWCB has received an application from Western Weather Consultants to renew their permit for a wintertime ground based cloud seeding program on behalf of Denver Water and Colorado Springs Utilities and several other sponsors.

This notice of intent has been advertised in eighteen newspapers in eighteen counties for this public hearing.

The public hearing will be held at La Quinta Inn & Suites, Loveland Room, 560 Silverthorne Lane, Silverthorne, Colorado, at 6:00 PM on Monday September 24, 2012.

The public record will be held open so that comments can be emailed to joe.busto@state.co.us or mailed with postmark of October 1, 2012 for consideration as part of the record of decision.

Public comments oral and written are used by the State to develop a record of decision that is used to deny, approve, or approve with special terms and conditions a weather modification permit.

More CWCB coverage here.