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Impacts of Exotic Rainbow Trout on Habitat Use by Native Juvenile Salmonid Species at an Early Invasive Stage

The detrimental impact of introduced Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss on native communities has been well documented around the world. Previous studies have focused on streams where the invasion has been successful and the species is fully established. In eastern Quebec, the invasion of Rainbow Trout is an ongoing process and, for now, there are few established populations. The presence of two native salmonids in these rivers, Atlantic Salmon Salmo salar and Brook Trout Salvelinus fontinalis, implies a risk of competition for habitat, despite the relatively low density of the Rainbow Trout populations, as all three species are known to use similar resources. In order to evaluate the strength of the interaction between the invading fish and the native species, we sampled nine rivers (five with Rainbow Trout and four free of Rainbow Trout) and characterized the habitat used by the three salmonids at the juvenile stage. River-scale analysis revealed that in invaded rivers, Rainbow Trout were associated with habitats characterized by closer proximity to the shoreline and by increasing shoreline cover. Estimates of habitat niche overlap integrating depth, water velocity, and substrate size revealed that niche overlap between Brook Trout and Atlantic Salmon significantly increased in the presence of Rainbow Trout. Furthermore, the two indigenous species preferred full cover in the absence of Rainbow Trout but in the presence of Rainbow Trout, which also preferred full cover, the indigenous species moved to more open habitats. Rainbow Trout showed a high growth rate, despite a size disadvantage at the beginning of the growing season, as compared with Atlantic Salmon and Brook Trout. It thus appears that even at an early stage of invasion, when its density is still low, Rainbow Trout significantly impact native salmonids.

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