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Abundance and Migration Success of Overshoot Steelhead in the Upper Columbia River


Summer steelhead Oncorhynchus mykiss may enter freshwater almost a year before spawning and potentially make long migrations (>1,000 km) to interior headwater habitats. However, in response to suboptimal freshwater habitat conditions (e.g., warmer water temperatures), adult summer steelhead may exhibit complex behaviors during upstream migration in the Columbia River basin. Steelhead may migrate upstream of their natal tributary (hereafter, referred to as “overshoot”) and spend days to several months before subsequently migrating downstream (hereafter, referred to as “fallback”) to their natal tributary to spawn. An expansion of an existing Bayesian patch occupancy model, derived from observations of adult steelhead that were PIT-tagged to estimate population-specific abundance upstream of the tagging location, incorporated downstream detection locations to estimate the abundance of overshoot fallbacks. Overshoot steelhead abundance at the tagging location was estimated based on the relationship between the number of known overshoot fallbacks (i.e., the number of steelhead that overshot and successfully migrated downstream to their natal tributary) and their model-estimated abundance. During the study period (2010–2017), the annual mean proportion of overshoot steelhead that successfully migrated downstream of the tagging location (Priest Rapids Dam) was 0.59 (SD = 0.14). The number of dams encountered by overshoot steelhead during their downstream migration was negatively correlated with their downstream migration success probability. Improved downstream passage survival for adult steelhead will increase the abundance of affected populations while reducing potential genetic introgression of upstream populations (i.e., strays). This is the first study to estimate the abundance of overshoot and fallback steelhead, providing the data necessary for scientists to estimate potential conservation benefits of improved downstream survival.

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