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COSEWIC Assessment and Update Status Report on the Carmine Shiner in Canada

Habitat

Habitat Requirements

The habitat requirements and life history of carmine shiner are not well known, as most work on the species complex has been conducted outside its range in areas inhabited by the rosyface shiner (Pfeiffer 1955; Reed 1957a, 1957b).

In Manitoba, during the summer, carmine shiners are typically found at midwater depths in clear, brown-coloured, fast flowing creeks and small rivers with clean gravel or rubble substrates, usually in or near riffles (Smart 1979; D. Watkinson, pers. comm. 2004). They are not known to migrate but may move into deeper pools and eddies in winter, and are sometimes present in lakes near stream mouths. The species’ apparent absence from the lower Red River, between Grand Forks and Lake Winnipeg, suggests that turbidity and fine sediment substrates may limit dispersal. These minnows may be intolerant of sustained turbidity (Trautman 1957; Becker 1983), but can tolerate pulses of turbidity in the Whitemouth River watershed associated with natural flood events (Stewart and Watkinson 2004).

Smart (1979) captured carmine shiners at 15 of 18 midcourse sites sampled on the Whitemouth River, and at 2 of 12 sites sampled on the lower 19 km of the Birch River. The channel of the midcourse reach of the Whitemouth River is gently winding and ranges in width from 18 to 36 m with sand, pebble, and cobble bottom substrate and numerous riffles. The channel of the lower Birch River is similar, but relatively straight. Carmine shiners were not caught in the headwaters, lower course, or other tributaries of the Whitemouth where the bottom substrate was silt and there were fewer riffles. More recent sampling has found them in the lower reaches of the Whitemouth River, in flowing water less than 3 m deep over primary bottom substrates ranging from sand, gravel, and cobble to bedrock (D. Watkinson, pers. comm. 2004). Similar habitats are available in the Pinawa Channel at riffles above the Old Pinawa Dam.

During periods of heavy runoff, rosyface shiners in Ontario will retreat to the slower-flowing edges of flooded rivers and onto the floodplain (Baldwin 1983). While it has not been observed, carmine shiners in Manitoba may show similar behaviour. Where they are available, flooded habitats may offer additional food resources and better feeding opportunities during periods of high turbidity. Their use may also lead to mortality by stranding.  Wintering habitats are not well known for either the rosyface or carmine shiners. In Ontario, rosyface shiners occupy deeper pools during the winter, where they are believed to remain inactive (Baldwin 1983).

Data are not available on the habitat preferences of young-of-the-year carmine shiners. However, Baldwin (1983) caught young-of-the-year rosyface shiners in pool habitats that were relatively turbid in summer and clearer in the autumn. These fish were concentrated in areas with less than 5% plant cover of the bottom substrates and partially forested shores.

The restricted distribution of carmine shiners in Manitoba, and the warm-water adaptation of all species of the N. rubellus complex, suggests that the carmine shiner is a relatively recent colonizer (Houston 1996) that reached the Hudson Bay Drainage from the Upper Mississippi watershed lake after glacial recession and the drainage of Lake Agassiz, possibly as recently as within the last thousand years. Dispersal into the headwaters of the Red River in northwestern Minnesota is demonstrated by the occurrence of the species there (Koel 1997). They may also have reached Rainy River headwaters adjacent to the Upper Mississippi watershed, as there is an early report of the species from Lake of the Woods (Evermann and Goldsborough 1907). These specimens should be re-examined, if available, to determine whether their identification is correct [they are probably N. atherinoides (K. Stewart, pers. comm. 2006)]. The absence of records of N. rubellus complex fish from the upper Mississippi watershed in northern Minnesota, however, suggests that the species may not occur upstream of the Whitemouth and Winnipeg rivers in the Hudson Bay Drainage.

Based on existing information, the Carmine Shiner Recovery Team (2005) was unable to reliably identify critical habitat necessary for the survival or recovery of the carmine shiner. Little is known of when or where spawning occurs; the location of nursery, rearing, feeding or food supply areas; and the timing or extent of migrations, should they occur. Adults do frequent shallow riffles with clear water and clean gravel or stone bottom in the Whitemouth River, but it is not known whether these habitats are critical to the species’ continued existence. They have been collected in a wider range of habitats elsewhere in the Winnipeg River system.

Habitat Trends and Limitations

Without specific information on the habitat requirements of the carmine shiner it is not possible at present to assess trends in their habitat, and limitations to their habitat use.

Habitat Protection/Ownership

The Species at Risk Act (Ss.58.1) prohibits the destruction of any part of critical habitat identified for any listed endangered, threatened or extirpated wildlife species. As yet, critical habitat for the carmine shiner has not been identified, so specific legal protection for critical habitat cannot be afforded through SARA at this time (Carmine Shiner Recovery Team 2005). The Manitoba Endangered Species Act protects the habitat of species that are listed by Manitoba, but carmine shiner has not yet been listed. Other existing federal and provincial statutes and policies may provide protection to the fish habitat in general.

Federally, the Fisheries Act (R.S. 1985, c. F-14) prohibits the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat (S.35) except as authorized by the minister and similarly prohibits the deposit of deleterious substances into waters frequented by fish (i.e., fish habitat) (Ss.36.3). The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) ensures that all federal regulatory actions including authorizing the destruction of fish habitat are vetted through an appropriate environmental review with consideration of species at risk.

Provincially, a 130-ha headwater section of the Whitemouth River that was designated as Ecological Reserve in 1986 to protect river-bottom forest may also provide some incidental protection for carmine shiner habitat (Hamel 2003).