Conservation, Research and Education Opportunities International

Identifying conservation challenges and opportunities for the endemic Olympic mudminnow

Julian Olden, University of Washington

Background 

The Olympic mudminnow (Novumbra hubbsi) is Washington State’s only endemic species, existing nowhere else in the world, yet has the distinction of also being one of the most poorly studied. If ever a fish was in need of a public relations makeover, it’s mudminnows. Everything about the name – from undesirable mud to inconsequential minnow says “nothing to see here”. Indeed, information about their ecology is piecemeal and anecdotal, with only a half-dozen studies conducted over the last century. In this way, Olympic mudminnow share the plight of many noncommercial freshwater species, where research interest is difficult to come by and research funding even harder.

Cryptic and difficult to find, but once discovered the Olympic mudminnow is both colorful and full of charisma.

Cryptic and difficult to find, but once discovered the Olympic mudminnow is both colorful and full of charisma.

On the basis of their limited distribution as well as on some evidence of population decline in recent decades, the WADFW assigned the Olympic Mudminnow to the category of “Sensitive” in 1999, indicating their vulnerability or risk for decline without management or the removal of threats (Mongillo and Hallock 1999). Recent genetic analysis by USFWS found that even populations in close geographic proximity can be genetically distinct, underscoring concerns that Olympic mudminnow may become vulnerable in future years if individual populations succumb to threats. Our own review of literature suggests that habitat loss – particularly through water regulation and management – presents the most likely threat to the future of mudminnow populations (Kuehne and Olden 2014). This is particularly concerning given that the core range of Olympic mudminnow is threated by a proposed large-dam project in the Chehalis River.

Approach 

Wildlife and land use managers would benefit enormously from a status assessment for Olympic mudminnow that takes into account key threats and results in both state-wide and watershed level recommendations for habitat planning, monitoring, and conservation action. Our recent efforts to study this small, and largely forgotten, fish have made it feasible to conduct a detailed conservation assessment and develop a statewide monitoring strategy for Olympic mudminnow that would substantially improve information related to distributional extent, population sizes, and threats for this unique species. Indeed, the conservation status of Olympic mudminnow was last conducted 20 years ago! The goal of this project is to evaluate the conservation (and the WADFW state listing) status for Olympic mudminnow through the synthesis of existing data and the design of a monitoring program that describes inter-annual (short-term) and decadal (long-term) population trends, identifies land use changes that may impact mudminnow populations, and guides restoration and conservation efforts to recovery or protect key populations. We plan to work with multiple agencies, tribal, and non-profit partners, to develop the monitoring program, thus laying the groundwork for a collaborative network that is interested in contributing to long-term viability of Olympic mudminnow.

The specific objectives of this proposal are to:

1) Develop a state-wide conservation assessment and restoration prioritization plan.

2) Design and implement a monitoring program that tracks multiple locations across the mudminnow range to assess changes in population status, abundance, and corresponding natural and human-caused environmental conditions over time.

3) Create and maintain an open-access data depository and information portal to facilitate ongoing research and public awareness for Olympic mudminnow.

Implications 

The proposed project will support and inform the state listing status (currently ‘Sensitive’) for Olympic mudminnow, monitor population responses to ongoing land use and habitat changes, and offer early warning as to changes in conservation status. It may be that portions of the population may respond differently to landscape-scale changes (e.g., water regulation projects, climate change) or dominant land uses, and a monitoring dataset can lay a foundation for ongoing research into these and other areas. Our agency, tribal, and non-profit partners are very interested in the conservation of Olympic mudminnow, and we believe it is possible to establish a collaborative network to share information, fill knowledge gaps, and work together to educate and inform generations of researchers, managers, and the public about this unique fish. For example, “adoption” annual monitoring sites by local agencies or non-profits creates potential to reach out to the local community in an ongoing way for help and/or use sampling events as education or outreach opportunities.

A partial list of collaborating partners includes the Oregon Zoo Foundation, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington Department of Ecology, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympic National Park and a number of indigenous peoples, including Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, Quileute Tribe and the Quinault Nation. ($20,000)