Historical Changes in Large River Fish Assemblages of the Americas

A Legacy of Change: The Lower Colorado River, Arizona-California-Nevada, USA, and Sonora-Baja California Norte, Mexico

Gordon A. Mueller, Paul C. Marsh, and W. L. Minckley (Deceased)

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569728.ch10

Abstract.—The lower Colorado is among the most regulated rivers in the world. It ranks as the fifth largest river in volume in the coterminous United States, but its flow is fully allocated and no longer reaches the sea. Lower basin reservoirs flood nearly one third of the river channel and store 2 years of annual flow. Diverted water irrigates 1.5 million ha of cropland and provides water for industry and domestic use by 22 million people in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. The native fish community of the lower Colorado River was among the most unique in the world, and the main stem was home to nine freshwater species, all of which were endemic to the basin. Today, five are extirpated, seven are federally endangered, and three are being reintroduced through stocking. Decline of the native fauna is attributed to predation by nonnative fishes and physical habitat degradation. Nearly 80 alien species have been introduced, and more than 20 now are common. These nonnative species thrived in modified habitats, where they largely eliminated the native kinds. As a result, the lower Colorado River has the dubious distinction of being among the few major rivers of the world with an entirely introduced fish fauna.