Jason E. Podrabsky

Date of Award

Spring 6-8-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Biology



Physical Description

1 online resource (xii, 113 pages)


Lampreys -- Larvae -- Effect of stress on -- Washington (State) -- Ellsworth Creek, Lampreys -- Larvae -- Effect of salt on -- Washington (State) -- Ellsworth Creek, Lampreys -- Larvae -- Dispersal -- Washington (State) -- Ellsworth Creek, Osmoregulation




Pacific lamprey is a culturally valuable species to indigenous people, and has significant ecological importance in freshwater and marine ecosystems. Over the past several decades, constrictions in range and reductions in Pacific lamprey abundance have been observed in Western North America, and may be indicators of range-wide declines. In the face of declining populations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has partnered with tribal, state, federal, and local entities to implement a regional Pacific lamprey conservation agreement aimed at reducing threats to Pacific lamprey and improving their habitats and population status. Research needs identified in the conservation agreement include assessing larval Pacific lamprey occupancy and distribution, habitat requirements, and the limiting factors of larval distribution in the freshwater ecosystem. As part of the effort to address these knowledge gaps, we investigated the potential for larval lampreys to occur in tidally-influenced estuarine environments. Research of this type may be valuable for future conservation, management or recovery efforts of Pacific lamprey throughout its range.

We employed a two-phased approach, consisting of laboratory and field components to address our aims. We first conducted a series of controlled laboratory experiments to evaluate osmotic stress tolerance and osmoregulatory status of larval Pacific lamprey exposed to a range of (1) fixed salinity in various dilutions of saltwater and (2) oscillating salinity treatments designed to simulate tidal activity. Tolerance was assessed by monitoring and comparing survival of larvae in various treatments through 96 h. Osmoregulatory status was assessed by quantifying and comparing total body water content, plasma osmolality, and plasma cation (i.e., sodium) concentrations among larvae surviving various treatments. In fixed salinity experiments, 100% survival was observed in 0‰, 6‰, 8‰ and 10‰ through 96 h, while 0% survival was observed through 48 h in 12‰, 30 h in 15‰, and 12 h in 25‰ and 35‰. In oscillating salinity experiments, on the other hand, a significant increase in survival (100%) was observed through 96 h in treatments that oscillated between 12‰ and 0‰ (freshwater) at about 6 h intervals versus fixed 12‰ salinity experiments. A significant increase in survival also occurred in oscillating 15‰ treatments (60%) versus fixed 15‰ through 96 h. Linear regression analysis indicated higher environmental salinity in laboratory experiments was significantly related to increases in plasma osmolality and plasma sodium (the most abundant osmotically active plasma cation) concentrations, and concurrent decreases in total body water content among larvae that survived various treatments. Tidal oscillations in salinity appeared to temper the desiccating effects of salinity, as changes in body water content and sodium ion concentration were less abrupt than fixed salinity treatments. These results suggest larvae cannot osmoregulate in hyperosmotic environments, but are able to tolerate some fixed and oscillating hyperosmotic salinity exposure. Consequently, larvae may be able to occur in certain areas of estuaries, such as oligohaline habitats that are characterized by low levels of salinity. Experimental results were used, in part, to guide larval sampling in a tidally-influenced habitat.

Occurrence of larval Pacific lamprey and Lampetra spp. (western brook and river lampreys) was subsequently investigated across a gradient of salinity in Ellsworth Creek (Pacific County, Washington) by electrofishing. Larval Pacific and Lampetra spp. were detected within an approximately 300 m long tidally-influenced segment of the study area. Salinity monitoring was conducted in six tidally-influenced reaches where larvae were detected for up to 14 d following electrofishing. Maximum tidal cycle salinity exceeded 15 ppt during 52% to 80% of tidal cycles within tidally-influenced reaches where larvae were detected. These results suggest potential for larval lamprey to occur in certain portions of tidal estuaries. However, long-term residence of larvae in tidally-influenced habitats and whether larvae are able to subsequently survive, grow, transform, and out-migrate is not known and requires further study. Given the potential for tidally-influenced habitats to be occupied by larvae, assessments of larval occurrence in other areas, such as the lower Columbia River, may be warranted. Knowledge of larval lamprey distribution in estuarine environments may be valuable for habitat restoration, and mitigating potential impacts from dredging and other human disturbances.

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