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Yellowstone National Park Report

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Yellowstone National Park (YNP) is a treasured national resource and an important element of tourism and the recreational economy in Wyoming. Because of its unique geological features and abundant wildlife and fisheries, YNP is a tourist destination for millions of people annually. Although this national symbol is cherished for its pristine condition and has been protected from most human influence for over 100 years, human mediated invasions of non­ indigenous species, such as several species of plants and animals, including an exotic snail (Potamopyrgus antipodarum), may alter this ecosystem. Recently an unauthorized introduction of lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) to Yellowstone Lake was documented. Recent investigation at the University of Wyoming, indicated that in-lake predation by lake trout on juvenile and sub-adult native Yellowstone cutthroat trout (Oncorhyncus clarki bouvieri) could negatively influence recruitment of cutthroat trout (Stapp and Hayward 2002). This may lead to significant reductions in numbers of spawning adult cutthroat if current management actions are ineffective, or if they are not continuously pursued (Stapp and Hayward 2002). While lake trout invasion in Yellowstone Lake will likely have detrimental effects on in-lake communities and processes, reductions in populations of native cutthroat trout can potentially impact other aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems outside of Yellowstone Lake. Cutthroat trout in Yellowstone Lake annually migrate into tributary streams and rivers to spawn (Varley and Gresswell 1988), with runs up to 60,000 trout per season into small streams such as Clear Creek (Gresswell and Varley 1988). This spawning migration may significantly affect in­ stream communities (cf. Power 1990) and alter nutrient cycling within tributary streams (Peterson et al. 1993) and in the adjacent riparian forests (Ben­David et al. 1998; Hilderbrand et al. 1999). Therefore, spawning cutthroat trout not only have trophic effects on their ecosystem but also act as "ecosystem engineers" (i.e., species that influence structure and function of ecosystems through non­ trophic processes) because of their role in transporting large amounts of nutrients between ecosystems (Jones et al. 1994). Reductions in spawning adult cutthroat trout will likely alter in­stream processes. In addition, for piscivorous (fish­eating) predators, a significant decline in the number of adult spawning cutthroat trout may reduce recruitment and survival, and it could threaten viability of predator populations. In this project we are investigating the role of cutthroat trout in structuring stream ecosystems, their importance to a representative fish-predator - the river otter (Lontra canadensis), and possible effectson terrestrial plants through nutrient transport by otters to latrine sites (Ben-David et al. 1998 Hilderbrand et al. 1999). We hypothesize that the spawning migration of cutthroat trout will result in transport of nutrients from lake to streams, and from streams to terrestrial forests, through the activity of piscivorous predators. Because nitrogen (N) limits production in area streams (J. L. Tank and R 0. Hall unpublished data) and terrestrial ecosystems (Nadelhoffer et al. 1995) we focus our investigation of nutrient cycling on this element. These observations will enable us to predict how streams, trout predators, and the terrestrial landscape will be affected following cutthroat trout decline.