Historical Changes in Large River Fish Assemblages of the Americas

Changes in Hydrology and Fish Fauna in the Gila River, Arizona-New Mexico: Epitaph for a Native Fish Fauna

John N. Rinne, Jeffrey R. Simms, and Heidi Blasius

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569728.ch9

Abstract.—The Gila River originates in southwestern New Mexico and courses its way for over 700 km to the west before emptying into the main-stem Colorado River near Yuma, Arizona. Historically, this river was a major watercourse across the Sonora Desert of Arizona. At present, main-stem dams and numerous diversions have markedly altered the historic hydrology of the river. Seventeen native species once occupied the main stem of this large southwest desert river. More than twice that number (40) of nonnative fish species have been introduced into the waters of the Gila over the past century. Currently, less than half of the native fauna is present in the main stem and then primarily in the upper three reaches of the river. The majority of the species (70%) are federally listed as threatened, endangered, or sensitive. The combination of hydrological alteration and accompanying introductions of nonnative, principally sport fishes has basically extirpated the native fauna in all but the uppermost reaches of the Gila River main stem.