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Identifying conservation challenges and opportunities for the endemic Olympic mudminnow

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.

Olympic mudminnow (Novumbra hubbsi) are Washington State’s only endemic fish species, and yet are subject to challenges plaguing many noncommercial freshwater species; namely, the lack of consistent research and monitoring, leading to knowledge gaps that limit conservation actions. With a small range and low dispersal ability, Olympic mudminnow were listed as a State Sensitive species by Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) in 1999. However, lack of research since that time has allowed no updated understanding of conservation threats or status, resulting in little to no guidance for management, conservation, or restoration actions. This project combined synthesis of all known Olympic mudminnow data sources (reaching back several decades), modeling, and targeted sampling efforts to lay the groundwork for a range-wide conservation assessment and collaborative monitoring plan. Our primary objective was to assess the conservation status of Olympic mudminnow, including habitat availability, population status, and threats across the range. A related major objective was to establish protocols, structures, and a strategic plan for long-term monitoring that is conducted by a research network of agency, tribal, and non-profit partners.

Data sources were tracked down from disparate sources, centralized and entered into a common database. The synthesized data was then used to develop a habitat suitability model, establish the population distribution, and identify areas where repeated sampling has been conducted over the last 40 years. Targeted sampling efforts were then conducted to identify new (i.e., previously undetected) populations of Olympic mudminnow, extend time series for historical sites, collect environmental DNA samples, and investigate population status and threats.

Results from the habitat suitability model helped fill a critical information gap related to habitat constraints; these results indicated that habitat appears relatively abundant in many parts of the range. However, the geographic region where habitat is most constrained (the north Olympic Coast) is also where populations are most genetically differentiated and rare on the landscape, suggesting a need for proactive conservation. In this region, our results showed that Lake Ozette is an important stronghold for Olympic mudminnow, but populations are patchily distributed and habitat around the lake is unevenly protected. Finally, this work has established the structure, mechanisms and protocols to implement a long-term monitoring plan for Olympic mudminnow by a collaborative network to promote a proactive conservation approach and continued learning about this culturally important and ecologically unique endemic species in Washington State.

Researchers have worked closely with state and federal agencies, tribes, and nonprofits on this work, both to communicate status of the research and lay the groundwork to implement collaborative monitoring and proactive conservation. These entities include the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Hoh, Makah, Chehalis, and Quinault Tribes, along with other local agencies and non-profit organizations. We have presented results of this work at multiple local conferences, and are scheduled to present at an additional conference in March 2018. This work has facilitated or led to multiple satellite projects related to Olympic mudminnow, including parasite research for endemic fish, testing to refine sampling protocols by Americorps volunteers, and an investigation into reproductive timing. ($20,000)