Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name

Fish and Wildlife Biology

Department or School/College

College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Lisa Eby

Commitee Members

Fred Allendorf, Winsor Lowe, Bruce Rieman, Paul Spruell


Cutthroat Trout, Hybrid Distribution, Hybridization, Life History, Management Tradeoffs


University of Montana


The role of introductions of nonnative fishes in the decline of native fishes cannot be overstated. Westslope cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi, WCT) are a salmonid native to the northern Rocky Mountains. These trout hybridize with rainbow trout (O. mykiss, RBT) where they are sympatric; however, in portions of the WCT range where RBT have been introduced, hybridization appears to spread rapidly and threatens continued existence of WCT. The conservation value of these hybridized populations is equivocal, and a better knowledge of the ecological, demographic, behavioral, and genetic consequences of hybridization is needed to better inform conservation strategies. I investigated three related questions: specifically, what landscape factors are associated with estimates of introgression; what are life history differences between WCT and hybrids; and what are tradeoffs in restoring migratory life history in populations threatened by hybridization?

The riverscape context plays a substantial role in the distribution of hybrids, as estimates of introgression declined with increases in stream slope, elevation, and distance from a primary source of RBT, three correlated landscape variables. Spatial variation in patterns of hybridization suggests clarifying objectives for sampling and careful designs are necessary to adequately understand the status of populations. Variation in location may relate to some of the ecological differences, such as growth, among fish with different levels of introgression. In the Jocko River, hybrids with ancestry > 20% RBT demonstrated higher growth, earlier migration, increased egg size, and lower fecundity versus WCT. These lines of evidence demonstrate the importance of limiting further hybridization even in populations that already have low levels of hybridization. Given that many unaltered populations currently reside in isolated habitat fragments, I evaluated several demographic tradeoffs of restoring a migratory life history weighed against the risks of increased potential for hybridization from removing barriers or selectively passing migratory fish above the barriers using both matrix and genetic population models. Restoration of migratory life history substantially increases population viability; however, hybridization in above-barrier population increases predictably relative to hybridization status of below-barrier population, which may reduce viability if vital rates are reduced in hybrids. Hybridization creates a challenging set of management problems, but this research adds several important pieces to the puzzles to help develop and evaluate conservation strategies.



© Copyright 2011 Matthew Philip Corsi