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State of California
The Resources Agency
DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

 

STATUS OF THE DESERT PUPFISH,
CYPRINODON MACULARIUS (BAIRD AND GIRARD),
IN CALIFORNIA

by

Glenn F. Black

Inland Fisheries, Region 5

 

Inland Fisheries Endangered Species Program

Special Publication 80-1

March 1980 

LDA


Endangered Species Program Special Publications are non-referred reports that contain information of sufficient importance to be preserved for future reference or to warrant early dissemination to biologists, managers, and administrators, but which is not currently appropriate for journal publications. Subject matter will reflect the broad array of research and management conducted in California on nongame species of reptiles, amphibians, fishes, and invertebrates, with primary emphasis on endangered, threatened, and rare taxa. Some of the material in these reports may eventually appear in scientific publications.

Inquiries concerning any particular report should be directed to the Inland Fisheries Branch, 1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, California 95814.


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STATUS OF THE DESERT PUPFISH,
CYPRINODON MACULARIUS (BAIRD AND GIRARD)
IN CALIFORNIA1/

by

Glenn F. Black2/

 

ABSTRACT

Evidence from various sources demonstrates that the distribution of the desert pupfish, Cyprinodcn rnacularius, has declined in California. The species was once endemic to the Colorado River and numerous springs throughout the Salton Sink, but is presently found only in the Salton Sea and some of its tributaries. Casual observations by numerous individuals indicated that their distribution and numbers within these areas had become severely reduced in recent years, reportedly due to loss of habitat and proliferation of exotic species.

To assess the distribution and relative abundance of desert pupfish, surveys were conducted quarterly at various locations in and around the Salton Sea. Minnow traps were used to sample fish within irrigation drains, shoreline pools, three permanent natural tributaries, and the Salton Sea proper between March 1978 and January 1979. San Felipe Creek, an intermittent tributary to the Salton Sea, was also surveyed in November 1978 and March 1979 following a report by the Bureau of Land Management that pupfish had been observed there.

Thirteen nonnative species of fish and one invertebrate species were collected in addition to the desert pupfish. The latter comprised 3% of the total catch from the four surveys of the irrigation drains, 5% of the catch from the shoreline pools, and less than 1% of the catch from the natural tributaries and the Salton Sea proper. On the other hand, the sailfin molly, Poecilia latapinna, accounted for 85% of the total catch in the irrigation drains, 81% of the catch in the shoreline pools, 70% of the catch from the natural tributaries, and 98% of the catch in the Salton Sea proper. The status of the pupfish populations in these habitats seems precarious.

By contrast, desert pupfish made up 70% of the total catch from San Felipe Creek. Although several nonnative species were also present, including the sailfin molly, their numbers were low. Thus, San Felipe Creek appears to support a viable population of desert pupfish. Planned agricultural development of several sections of land adjacent to the creek and also land subdivision for housing pose immediate threats to the habitat. Pumping of ground water to supply these developments may eliminate the surface flow in San Felipe Creek.

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Because the desert pupfish has undergone a significant reduction in its range, and due to existing threats to the only viable natural population remaining in California, the desert pupfish qualifies for listing as an endangered species under both State and Federal endangered species acts. Cooperation between County, State, and Federal governments as well as the private sector will be necessary to prevent this species from becoming extinct in California.

_________________________________________________________________________________

l/Inland Fisheries Endangered Species Program Special Publication 80-1. This report was prepared as part of an Endangered Species Act grant- in-aid project, "California E-F-3, "Endangered Threatened, and Rare Fish."

2/Fishery Biologist, Region 5, Chino Fish and Wildlife Base, Route 2, Bird Farm Road, Chino California 91710.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The following Department employees deserve special thanks because without their assistance the surveys upon which this report is based could never have been completed: Jim St. Amant, Almo Cordone, Louis Courtois, Larry Eng, Ellen Gleason, Ken Hashagen, Alice Karl, Jim Kikel, Kris Lal, Bill Loudermilk, Don Magill, Terry Mills, and Frank Torres. Thanks also go to Eric Nelson and Mike Aceituno of the Burea of Land Management, Margaret Matsui from Occidental College, Alan Schoenherr from Fullerton College, and Alan Mearns from SCCWRF, who also participated in the surveys. I would also like to thank Jim St. Amant, Louis Courtois, Ken Hashagen, and Steve Nicola for reviewing the manuscript and offering valuable advice.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Page

ABSTRACT

i

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

ii

TABLE OF CONTENTS

iii

LIST OF TABLES

iv

LIST OF FIGURES

v

LIST OF APPENDICES

vi

INTRODUCTION

1

MATERIALS AND METHODS

3

Description of Habitats

4

RESULTS

6

Irrigation Drains

6

Shoreline Pools

10

Natural Tributaries

12

Salton Sea Proper

15

Summary of the Results of the Quarterly Surveys

15

Surveys of San Felipe Creek

17

Refugia Populations

17

DISCUSSION

21

Salton Sea Populations

21

San Felipe Creek Population

23

STATUS

25

RECOMENDATIONS

26

REFERENCES

27

APPENDIX

30

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LIST OF TABLES

Table

Page

1

The ratios of potential predator and competitor species to desert pupfish as sampled in individual traps within 15 irrigation drains during quarterly surveys at the Salton Sea.

9

2

The ratios of predator and competitor species to desert pupfish as sampled in individual traps within two shoreline pools during quarterly surveys at the Salton Sea.

13

3

Numbers and percent composition of each species captured from all habitats during quarterly desert pupfish surveys at the Salton Sea.

19

4

The ratios of potential predator and competitor species to desert pupfish in individual traps within San Felipe Creek during the fall survey

20

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LIST OF FIGURES

Figure

Page

1

Distribution of desert pupfish within California.

2

2

Areas sampled during desert pupfish surveys.

5

3

Seasonal distribution of species captured in 18 irrigation drains during desert pupfish surveys at the Salton Sea.

7

4

Seasonal distribution of species captured in two shoreline poolsduring desert pupfish surveys at the Salton Sea .

11

5

Seasonal distribution of species captured in three tributaries to the Salton Sea during desert pupfish surveys.

14

6

Seasonal distribution of species captured in 13 areas of the Salton Sea proper during desert pupfish surveys

16

7

Seasonal distribution of species captured from all habitats sampled during desert pupfish surveys at the Salton Sea.

18

8

San Felipe Creek and San Sebastian Outstanding Natural Area, Imperial County, California

24

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LIST OF APPENDICES

Appendix

Page

1

Numbers of each species captured and depth of capture in irrigation drains at the Salton Sea during four desert pupfish surveys

31

2

Dissolved oxygen, turbidity, and temperature at selected areas during the summer, fall, and winter surveys

35

3

Numbers of each species captured and depth of capture in two shoreline pools of the Salton Sea during quarterly desert pupfish surveys

38

4

Numbers of each species captured and depth of capture in three tributaries to the Salton Sea during quarterly desert pupfish surveys

39

5

Numbers of each species captured and depth of capture in 13 areas of the Salton Sea proper during quarterly desert pupfish surveys

40

6

Numbers of each species captured and depth of capture in two surveys of San Felipe Creek

42

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INTRODUCTION

The desert pupfish, Cyprinodon rnacularius (Baird and Girard), a member of the killifish family, is endemic to the backwaters, sloughs, springs, and seeps of the Gila River drainage in Arizona; the Sonoyta River drainage in northern Sonora, Mexico; and the lower Colorado River drainage (including the Salton Sink) of California and Baja California (Miller 1943). Several of these isolated populations of desert pupfish are considered to be separate subspecies (Minckley 1973). The Monkey Springs population in Arizona, probably a distinct species is now considered extinct (Schoenherr, pers. commun. 1979). Several other populations of desert pupfish outside of California are considered to be endangered, threatened, or of "special concern" by the American Fisheries Society (Deacon et al. 1979). Serious declines in these populations are directly related to interferences by man and include: (1) the introduction of exotic predator and competitor species, (2) habitat modification due to water diversions, and (3) ground water pumping for agriculture (Pister l974).

The desert pupfish was first reported from California in 1859 by Girard who found them in some unnamed saline springs identified only as in Imperial County (Jordan, Evermann, and Clark 1930). Since then this species has been reported from the following locations in California (Figurel): the Colorado River (Garman 1895, Gilbert and Scofield-.1898, Hubbs and Miller 1941); Figtree John Spring (Evermann 1916, Coleman 1929); the Salton Sea (Thompson and Bryant 1920, and numerous authors since); Fish Spring (Thompson 1920, Coleman 1929), Dos Palmas Spring (Eigenmann and Eigenmann 1888, Jaeger 1938); San Felipe Creek (Clark 1930, Miller 1943); artesian wells near Mecca (Miller 1943), Thermal, and Indio (Jordan 1924, Miller 1943); and two unnamed springs near Dos Palmas Spring (Miller 1943).

The desert pupfish has since disappeared from the Colorado River (Colorado River Wildlife Council 1977), and from Dos Palmas Spring and the two unnamed springs nearby (Calif. Dep. Fish and Game, unpubl. data). Two other springs from which pupfish were reported, Fish Spring and Figtree John Spring, no longer exist. Fish Spring has been capped and a mobile home park currently exists in this area (F. Hoover, Calif. Dep. Fish and Game, pers. commun.), and Figtree John Spring has been inundated by the rising of the Salton Sea (pers. observ.). The locations of the artesian wells near Indio, Thermal, and Mecca were never given by Miller (1943), and they could not be found during recent searches by DFG personnel (Calif. Dep. Fish and Game, unpubl. data). Because of the great amount of agricultural development that has occurred in these areas they probably no longer exist, except possibly as capped irrigation wells. Thus, the desert pupfish is no longer found in California in any of its native habitats except certain of the tributaries of the Salton Sea, including San Felipe Creek. The Salton Sea is not a natural body of water, having been formed and now maintained by man's activities.

The desert pupfish has been reported as "abundant" at the Salton Sea by several authors (Coleman 1929; Cowles 1934; Barlow 1958a, 1961; Walker 1961), however, only Barlow (1961) attempted to estimate their abundance. He observed schools of juvenile pupfish estimated at 10,000 individuals in a single shoreline pool and approximately 150 adults/in2 in another.

Figure 1. Distribution of desert pupfish within California.

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Collections made by California Fish and Game personnel since 1955 (Calif. Dep. Fish and Game, unpubl. data) and others, including Schoenherr (1979), since 1964, indicate that the abundance of desert pupfish at the Salton Sea has severely declined. A possible cause for this may be the introduction and establishment of several exotic tropical species that may prey on or compete with desert pupfish for available food and space, certain of these exotics were probably "escapees" from nearby private fish hatcheries where they were reared for the aquarium trade (J. A. St. Amant, Calif. Dep. Fish and Game, pers. commun.). The sailf in molly was first discovered approximately 23 years ago in irrigation drains. Since then the molly has-become established in the Salton Sea (Moyle 1976) along with the shortfin molly, P. mexicana (Schoenherr 1979); the porthole fish, Poeciliopsis qracilis (Mearns 1975); and the red shiner, Notropis lutrensis (Moyle 1976).

In addition, Zill's cichlid, Tilapia zillii, and the Mozambique mouthbrooder, Sarotherodon mossambicus, have been reported to be established in the Salton Sea by Hoover (1971) and Moyle (l976, respectively3/. These two species were introduced in the late 1960's as early 1970's by the local irrigation districts to control aquatic weed growth in the irrigation canals and drains. Since then the Zill's cichlid has been stocked annually in these areas.

Ten years after Barlow (1961) and Walker (1961) had reported the desert pupfish as "abundant" at the Salton Sea, Crear and Haydock (1971) suggested that desert pupfish be reared in the laboratory to supply adequate stocks for sanctuaries and thereby preserve the species from extinction at the Salton Sea. Subsequently, the Department of Fish and Game established desert pupfish from the Salton Sea in five sanctuaries, three within Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, San Diego County, one at Arro~weed Springs, Imperial County, and another at the Living Desert Reserve, Riverside County.

Fisk (1972) recommended that pupfish populations at the Salton Sea be periodically monitored to detect any changes requiring protection for this already depleted species. It was not until 1977 that the Department's Endangered Species Project was finally organized to evaluate the status of various depleted native fishes throughout California. To assess status of the desert pupfish at the Salton Sea, quarterly surveys were initiated by the Department of Fish and Game in March 1978. Two surveys of San Felipe Creek, an inter-mittent tributary to the Salton Sea, were also conducted. This