Evaluating Brook Trout Egg and Alevin Survival at Different Temperatures in Simulated Karst Environments with Marl Sedimentation

Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) have been extirpated from many karst-geology streams in West Virginia; however, the causes are not fully understood. Specifically, the impact of calcareous precipitate (marl), which is common in hard-water environments, has not been evaluated as an im- pediment to juvenile survival. Accordingly, two lab-based studies were conducted to determine if brook trout egg and alevin survival is inhibited by marl. In the first study, three aeration treatments were applied to water from a limestone spring source (13–14 C; ~300 mg L–1 hardness), resulting in different pH levels and an increasing degree of marl precipitate. Treatments included raw/untreated (RU; no marl), once-aerated (OA; limited marl), and continuously aerated (CA; significant marl) water. Brook trout eggs obtained from a local hatchery were fertilized and stocked among gravel-filled trays receiving each water type. Mortality occurred faster in CA water where marl coated egg surfaces, but cumulative survival was negligible for all water types. After 53 days, no surviving alevins remained in RU or CA, and 1% survival was observed in OA water. However, extra eggs maintained in a marl-producing system at 8 C without gravel demonstrated >50% survival. A second study was carried out to investigate this discrepancy. Survival was evaluated at three temperatures with and without gravel while producing a thin coating of marl. Increased prevalence of alevin deformities and significantly lower survival were observed at 13.7 C versus 8.1 and 11.2 C, but gravel inclusion did not affect these variables. Potentially harmful effects of marl were observed; however, juvenile brook trout survival was higher during Study 2. This research suggests that brook trout reintroduction efforts in karst-geology streams should be focused on microhabitats with limited marl production and adequate water temperatures for juvenile survival.

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