of Origins and History: the Rarest of Possibilities

Some questions may persist as to just how alvordensis made it to ***** Creek.  Though there is historical reference about the translocation of Alvords from Trout Creek to the basin westward of their former home, an ichthyologist might still have questions to ask…

Alvord genetics are currently officially undocumented, and until a thorough analysis of the Hubbs and Miller samples at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology is undertaken it remains difficult (if not impossible) to make authoritative statements regarding the trout genetics in ***** Creek.

Genetic analysis may not be crucial for the identification of alvordensis in ***** Creek, as the historical and phenotypical indicators are authoritative for those who have seen and studied them up-close.  Other ‘competing explanations’ seem to pale in comparison to what Dr. Behnke has already surmised and put forth regarding these phenotypical Alvord trout.

Yet this post touches upon what may be a different consideration where ***** Creek and its basin are concerned.  It briefly examines some of the thoughts that flowed through our minds a few years ago—when we first encountered the collection of trout in ***** Creek—  and when we first became aware of their very unusual and remarkable genetic diversity.

Considering that subspecies of Mexican Trout have fairly recently been identified—and are still being sorted as to classification and genome; and—many “new” species and subspecies of cyprinids have been identified in recent decades (including a Tui chub found in the ***** Basin, which certain ichthyologists identify as a distinct species), and considering that parts of the basin and range are in some ways as remote and untraveled as the Sierra Madre on the Pacific slope of Mexico’s mainland; then perhaps this post represents a true possibility. Still, the following theoretical abstract would surely be among the remotest of possibilities.

Generally the simplest of explanations satisfactorily explain what we find in nature (similar to Occam’s razor). It is generally best to use the most obvious logical explanation as to why things are the way they are, rather than make things more complex than they have to be. Adjoin to the above that we agree with Dr. Behnke in his assertion that alvordensis were translocated to ***** Creek, and (apart from finding a pure remnant elsewhere) “…what remains of the Alvord subspecies is incorporated into the trout now found in ***** Creek.”

Yet, all that aside: when a recurring thought seems to persist in one’s consciousness — and a perfectly good disproof has not presented itself; then perhaps it is time to at least ask the question that has doggedly been lingering in our thoughts and feelings for a few years now. Whether it is a long-shot, or not, only by asking questions can we pursue the answers: and by asking these questions we may be fulfilling an aspect of objective scientific investigation.

Could there have been an indigenous form of trout in ***** Creek, predating transplants into the system, that is now (also) being incorporated into the trout found in the system?

Several considerations help generate these questions.  One being the slow desertification that has dominated the post pluvial age — as lakes throughout the basin and range have gradually given up the life sustaining properties that once supported their lacustrine trout.

It doesn’t really require too much imagination to see the ancient water scars in many of the once-upon-a-time pluvial basins that dominate parts of the West; especially in the Great Basin.  Sometimes the “scars” are carved into canyons that reveal the tell-tale history of water flow that persisted long enough to not only carve the canyons, but to carry the life giving properties of water into and throughout those regions into which they easily flowed.

Many of these basins are alkali deserts today; the alkali being a token testimony to the huge volumes of water that once inhabited these basins.  With a little imagination, it becomes possible to visualize a time when lakes dotted virtually every low plain and vale throughout the basin and range, and the whole region was lush with vegetation and life.

Research has investigated the Lahontan Basin’s pluvial history—and explains a timeframe for a likely overflow from the Lahontan Basin into the Alvord Basin.  Likewise, research has confirmed at least one point of overflow from the Alvord Basin into Coyote Lakes Basin and on into the Snake River and the Columbia Basin.  (Please note the imbedded map located below, and a previous post from May 2011 entitled Questions From the Pluvial Past.)

Close-up of Geological Pluvial/Pleistocene Lakes in OR-CA-NV

Close-up of geological Pleistocene pluvial lakes in OR-CA-NV showing the putative overflow from Lake Lahontan to the Alvord Basin, and from the Alvord Basin to Coyote Lakes and on to the Owyhee R. and the Columbia Basin. ...It also traces a plausible theoretical (very ancient) flow from Lake Meinzer to the ***** Basin and the ****** Valley.

Adjacent to Lake Lahontan is ancient Lake Meinzer; the highest of the Pleistocene lakes.  A high ridgeline prevented it from interfacing with Lake Warner at its northern most region. Yet its eastern arm extended to a wide flat plateau that is located due south of ***** Basin, and is directly above the Nevada basin that feeds into the larger basin due north in Oregon.

Buttes and lava flows north of ***** Basin may have closed this basin once-upon-a-time. The natural flow of ***** Creek to the south would ultimately fill the ancient lake bed in the southern region of the basin.  At some historical timeframe the northern reach of ***** Lake breached the natural lava rise and eroded further on into the next basin to the north.

In the 1860’s Colonel Drew encountered the lake, and found it to be miry, and hence gave it its new unflattering name.  However, the fact that the ***** Basin still had a lake—long after Lake Alvord had turned into an alkali sand desert, should give pause to the realization that, in some respects, this basin had more late hydrology than the once great Lake Alvord.

In more recent history, a notable manmade dam created a lake at the northern end of the ***** Basin.  This manmade lake now contributes sporadic overflow to the north “slough.”

All this background information doesn’t really say much on its own.  Yet: if the same forces that caused ancient Lake Lahontan to overflow into the Alvord Basin had an effect on Lake Meinzer; then could it also be that ancient Lake Meinzer overflowed into the ***** Basin? The remaining question would be: what salmonid species did ancient Lake Meinzer have?

Of course, some would say that without access to the Pacific—or to the Lahontan Basin, it would not have had salmonid species.  Yet, it may not be quite so simple.  Closed basins of the West are known to have their own trout species; and the origins or extent of the trout in the West would seem to be more endemic and pervasive than otherwise.  It is as if the West was awash with cutthroat trout; the lakes were the “nets” that captured them, while allowing the trout to refine unique characteristics via adaptation to their changing environs.


Massacre Lakes Petroglyph / Possible-Probable Salmonid

And, there is at least one more possible piece to the puzzle that may have some unique value.  On the western edge of the ******* National Wildlife Refuge, there is an ancient petroglyph that most biologists would say plausibly represents a salmonid.  This unique petroglyph is in the rim rock above what was once ancient Lake Meinzer— near where the transition to the southern edge of what becomes the ***** Basin takes place.

The petroglyph is carved in the “hanging” position, so that the fish would look like a freshly caught salmon: (and indeed, the petroglyph is quite large—over four feet in length!)  It might be interesting to have the input of Northern Paiute elders, and perhaps an explanation of what this petroglyph might mean.  It is near traditional antelope hunting routes, and it is located in the rim rock above Massacre Lakes Basin (the eastern arm of ancient Lake Meinzer).  It is quite rare to find fish (salmonid) petroglyphs throughout this now desert region…

Perhaps the petroglyph is also an historical reference—but in its own language.  The recordings of time and geology are different than the annals of mankind’s history, yet, perhaps, more revealing than human memoirs.

Admittedly, this entire scenario is speculative and is not intended to be an authoritative absolute.  Yet the question needs to be asked:  While there are trout in the ***** system that readily fit into known trout descriptions and types (and may be easily explained by known and probable transplants of trout into ***** Creek from the mid 1900’s and prior); is it also possible that there were already trout extant in the ***** system — that predated all of the translocations of trout into the system, and they comprise a previously unclassified species or subspecies, now also being incorporated into the menagerie of trout now found in ***** Creek?

So many unusual hybridization factors and developmental “challenges” have been noted in the ***** system, that it may just be the outcome of such wildly mixed genetic expression. Yet; there are those trout in the system that uniquely defy identification and classification.

Perhaps there is some seasonal differentiation.  Perhaps the health of some of the trout may come into question.  Perhaps this is what one gets when the genetic soup is just too hot.  Or, perhaps, there is a genetic composition in the system that is not the same as the known quantities of currently classified cutthroat trout species.

Are they possibly a remnant of an unknown western desert trout species—clinging to life in this utterly isolated remote desert environment?  Precluding a comprehensive analysis; this may simply be one of those unanswered questions, that we never know the answer to.

Perhaps, in time, there will be new scientific tools to ascertain even this remote possibility. Hopefully we can address these added questions without loosing track of the primary goal.

What we can be assured of, is that the most preeminent and foremost of fisheries biologists and research scientists have noted the survival of alvordensis in this remote desert creek;—and the prospect for assuring their continued existence and perpetuation for generations to come rests only in this narrow window of time and opportunity currently in our hands.

© KOD 8-2011

About kortumofdiscovery

Kortum of Discovery (a slight play on Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery) is a family team that is Affirming the Exceptional Beauty of Nature, one Adventure at a Time. With a focus toward rare and endangered species in the Great Basin and American west: discoveries, unique methodologies, and many “tall tales to tell” are continually being shared around the campfire!
This entry was posted in Fisheries Biology and Genetics, Observations. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to of Origins and History: the Rarest of Possibilities

  1. Pingback: A few Exigent Questions—in Pursuit of Apt Answers | Alvord Cutthroat Trout — Phenotype       Remnant Rescue‎ | ‎Restoration Précis

  2. Pingback: Here a Little, There a Little . . . Small Steps of a Long Journey | Alvord Cutthroat Trout — Phenotype       Remnant Rescue‎ | ‎Restoration Précis

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