Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2018ND338B

Restoring the Bigmouth Buffalo (Ictiobus cyprinellus), a Native Species Beneficial to Water Quality and Ecological Functioning of North Dakota’s Aquatic Ecosystems

Institute: North Dakota
Year Established: 2018 Start Date: 2018-03-01 End Date: 2019-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $8,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $16,000

Principal Investigators: Mark Clark

Abstract: The bigmouth buffalo fish (Ictiobus cyprinellus) is the largest catostomid. The family Catostomidae is known for its high diversity in North America (NA), home to 77 of 78 total species. Bigmouth buffalo (BMB) were once broadly distributed from southern Canada to Louisiana. During the 19th Century they became economically important to commercial fisherman. By the late 19th Century BMB populations were overharvested, prompting an effort to supplement the native NA fish fauna with the Eurasian common carp (Cyprinidae: Cyprinus carpio), which by 1900 became notorious as an invasive species with severe impacts to water quality. BMB compete for food and spawning habitat with both the common carp and two other exotic carp species whose invasion of regional waters is imminent. Recently, BMB have been increasingly targeted by both commercial harvest and sport bowfishing. This native fish resource has remained understudied, especially in North Dakota, in spite of these increasing threats. We have found BMB to live to 104 years old, exactly four times longer than previously reported. Furthermore, nearly 90% (N=80) of the Red River Basin fish collected were greater than 75 years. The paucity of younger fish suggests this population is in an extended period of reproductive failure. Reasoning from the case of the long-lived lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens), further study and proper management will be essential to bringing these buffalo back from the road to extinction. Recovery of this once-dominant native species will restore their natural function in regional aquatic ecosystems, with positive effects on water quality and aquatic productivity.