Correspondence and Communication: Alvord Cutthroat Trout

From: David B. Kortum
Sent: Saturday, June 30, 2012 11:17 PM
To: ‘Joseph Tomelleri’
Cc: Patrick Trotter
Subject: Alvord cutthroat trout

Hello Joe,

Yes, it’s certainly true that terms are being used and classifications being painted with a broad brush.  The Willow/Whitehorse cutts are considered to be in the Humboldt (humboldtensis) classification by Dr. Behnke and Patrick Trotter (with considerable basis for that decision).  The meristic counts for these differ notably from henshawi.

Upon recently looking more carefully at the gill raker counts for Yellowstone cutts — they’re lower than I’d recalled — but Yellowstone cutts have a notably higher # of gill rakers “on the posterior side of the first gill arch.”  (It is rare to take into consideration such detail in the identification of different strains of trout; but it is evident that Dr. Behnke methodically analyzed strains of trout for every detail — and I appreciate the fact that Patrick notes many of these details ‘front and center’ in the trout descriptions contained in Cutthroat: Native Trout of the West.)

It is, perhaps, also a bit unusual, or interesting, that the typical lateral series scales for Alvords are so low, compared to Willow/Whitehorse, Lahontans or Yellowstones.

I certainly believe that you are right about the Alvord genotype — until we have a comprehensive analysis of it — we really don’t know what we’ll get . . .

Let’s hope that native trout enthusiasts and conservation entities, along with “the powers that be,” can find the determination and financing to truly achieve genetic analysis via state-of-the-art technological procedures to help resolve questions, and help provide answers, as to exactly what the Alvord cutthroat trout really was (and hopefully is).

David and Carmela Kortum

From: Joseph Tomelleri
Sent: Saturday, June 30, 2012 2:20 PM
To: David Kortum
Cc: Patrick Trotter
Subject: Re: Hello Joe and Patrick

Hi David — (what is the baseline for “Lahontan”)   Is it a Pyramid lake fish, or is it a willow/whitehorse cutt — because aren’t those considered “Lahontan” by ODFW — but clearly they still have a different phenotype than the classic Pyramid Lahontan?    And I guess without the Alvord genotype we don’t know if even that portion of the Alvord genotype might look like “Lahontan” either!

Best regards,

Joe T.

On Jun 29, 2012, at 9:55 PM, David B. Kortum wrote:

Hello Joe and Patrick,

Our apology for being so long since our last communication:  It seems that we’ve been caught in a bit of a test regarding the limitations we seem to so often have to endure in this life (financial limitation, health challenges, employment changes and learning curves, time constraints and etc…)

Patrick, you probably can affirm that the weather has been inordinately wet this  spring/ summer here in the northwest again.  At least here in Eugene/Springfield we’ve thought/ hoped that summer was finally here at least four or five times, but then rain and unseasonably cool weather has set in again — and most of our enthusiasm to really get out then seems to evaporate.

No doubt, this is the latest in the year that we’ve gone — without having gone fishing… Though I suppose that I can’t quite fully say that, because back in February we had a clear spell that inspired us to get out and visit part of the family — and then drive up the Oregon coast from California; and fish a few crystal clear coastal rivers along the way.  …On the Pistol River I did catch a small Steelhead — what they call a ‘half-pounder’ (though it was more like two-and-a-half pounds).  Beautiful trout with lots of fight, that couldn’t resist the leggy stimulator that was drifted through his ripple.

Hopefully, eventually, we’ll get back to feeling on top of things — and we’ll get out enjoying the great outdoors and catching some rare, endangered or even ‘extinct’ trout…

Anyway, we hope that you’re both doing OK; and that we can all find soft landings for difficult flights that life sometimes takes us on.

A while back we did have some communication with Mary Peacock; and the lab did include ***** Creek clips from 2008 (taken at random from the shocker, by Tim Walters — the previous ODFW Fish Biologist for SE Oregon) in a joint project with NOAA to recognize SNP differentiators in Lahontan, Rainbow and Yellowstone trout.

It is probably easiest to embed some of the email communication below, so that you both can be apprised of the correspondence with Mary — and, it probably would be good to include some of the correspondence with TU chapters here in the NW (Mike Caltigirone is President of the Sagebrush Chapter in Nevada):

—–Original Message—–
From: Helen Neville
Sent: Thursday, June 21, 2012 12:09 PM
To: David Kortum; Mike Caltagirone; Thomas Wolf
Cc: Andy Starostka
Subject: RE: Alvord cutthroat trout (Alvord Basin, Sheldon/Hart Mountain-NWR-Complex)

Hi David,

This is all very interesting, thanks for the update.  I am certainly interested in helping pursue something to help with these efforts. Unfortunately, TU does not have funding for these kinds of things; we have to pursue the funding ourselves.  I’m cc’ing Andy Starostka on here, who is the FWS biologist for the NW Lahontan GMU and who is interested in the Alvord question as well.  Not sure if there might be the possibility of getting funding through them to inform future native trout work in the region…

There is also a larger Bring Back the Natives program through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and this might be right up that alley.

Since Mary’s lab would be doing the work (and needing the salary, etc), this might be something Mary (could) apply for if she’s interested in pursuing (and I could help, as I’ve got the gig down pretty well by now) – they can be pretty big, so this might be a good source.  Pre-proposals are due in Dec, so there is time to develop this (and they’re really not that big of a deal to do).

Also, as I’ve mentioned before, TU has ‘embrace-a-stream’ grants, which wouldn’t cover the majority of the costs but could certainly help (I think they’re around 10k), and the Sagebrush chapter has a grant program as well.   Perhaps it would be possible to piece this together with a variety of funding sources like this.

Let me know your collective thoughts and I’ll be happy to help in any way I can…Thanks, Helen

—–Original Message—–
From: Mike Caltagirone
Sent: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 9:38 AM
To: David Kortum
Subject: Re: Alvord cutthroat trout (Alvord Basin, Sheldon/Hart Mountain-NWR-Complex)

Hi David,

Great pics! I was just thinking about this yesterday. I’m very glad that Mary was able to get things rolling. Our chapter has a meeting with the head of USF&W in Nevada in a few weeks. …. Also we still have the option of applying for an Embrace-a-Stream grant from TU ($10K) and our chapter endowment may be able to kick in as well.

I’ll talk with our board and see how they would feel about an grant application on this (we have some criteria regarding benefits to Nevada in funded projects but I think the Alvords testing would fit into them).

I’ll get back to you as I have contact with each of them.



IMPORTANT: This email is intended for the use of the individual addressee(s)named above and may contain information that is confidential or unsuitable for overly sensitive persons with low self-esteem, no sense of humour or irrational religious beliefs. If you are not the intended recipient, any dissemination, distribution or copying of this email is not authorized and constitutes an irritating social faux pas. No animals were harmed in the transmission of this email, although the cat next door is living on borrowed time, let me tell you.

From: David B. Kortum
To: ‘Helen Neville’; ‘Mike Caltagirone’; ‘Thomas Wolf’
Sent: Monday, June 18, 2012 11:26 PM
Subject: Alvord cutthroat trout (Alvord Basin, Sheldon/Hart Mountain-NWR-Complex)

Hello Helen, Mike and Tom;

Please accept our apology for being so long since our last communication. (It seems that work, responsibilities, limited time & energy, life etc. seems to slow things down a bit.)

Since our last communications Mary Peacock (UNR) did let us know that some of the samples from ***** Creek taken by Tim Walters (circa 2008) were included in an analysis that her lab — along with Carlos Garza (NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center) — undertook, developing and utilizing SNPs to identify differentiators among trout.

They developed SNPs to:

1. distinguish between Lahontans and rainbows (16 markers)

2. identify pure Lahontans and hybridized fish, but not the identity of who they hybridized with (24 markers)

3. identify pure Yellowstone cuts, Yellowstone-Lahontan hybridized fish and hybrids that we do not know the identity of who they hybridized with (10 markers).

4. They also have 36 markers that are variable within the Lahontans

5. And they also have 23 microsatellite markers for Lahontans

She did conclude that the fish in these samples could be “identified as a Lahontan, Yellowstone or Yellowstone-Lahontan hybrid,” but she did go on to say “However, it would be interesting to run these markers on known Alvords and see what we get.”

The samples that Tim took were random — as they came up from the shocker. As we’ve communicated in the past; our experience is that respectable Alvord phenotypes would appear to be perhaps 1:20 (of the 21 trout that Tim brought up in the shocker, few {perhaps only one!} — based on our average experience — would be Alvord phenotypes).

That said; it would not surprise us at all if Yellowstone’s were introduced at some time in the past into ***** Creek. It would reveal that trout from “unofficial” sources were placed in the creek in the past… and we’ve noted from early on that some of the trout appear to be Yellowstone cutts.

The prospect of a genetic legacy that originates from more than one source population may add complicating factors for the analysis of and understanding of this rare form of cutthroat trout. …‘once upon a time’ the Alvord Basin was not, technically, a closed basin. And there was a prolonged time span connection between the Great Basin and the Columbia Basin. …Which may explain the thousands of years old redband genetics in Robert Smith’s Alvord.” “If remnants of Yellowstone cutthroat trout were salted throughout the lower Columbia and Snake River plateaus, and if remnants of Westslope cutthroat trout also found their way to these basins (as is known that they did) one might wonder what other ‘secrets’ the whole genome of the Alvord cutthroat trout might reveal.   And: “Questions from the Pluvial Past

Anyway, all that aside — it would perhaps seem more evident than ever before that the only way that we’ll ever know for sure what the origins of the Alvord phenotypes in ***** Creek (as well as what the relative purity is of any more remnants that might be found in Virgin Creek, NV or in any of the Alvord Basin streams or the Sheldon/Hart Mountain NWR Complex streams) — will be by genetic testing of the pre-hybridization Alvord cutthroat samples taken by Hubbs on Virgin Creek in 1934, now preserved at UMMZ.

Mary Peacock has expressed a willingness/interest to analyze those samples (in order to establish at least some genetic baseline for alvordensis).  She and her lab manager did a “back of the envelope” estimate of total costs to do an analysis of samples from the Hubbs’ collection at UMMZ — to establish a genetic baseline for alvordensis and help answer questions revolving around these almost unknown trout.  A rough estimate for total cost is around $45,000 (utilizing SNPs to help achieve the analysis).

So: is there anything at all that we can do to encourage a “tri-state” Trout Unlimited (and hopefully other donors) funded analysis of the alvordensis samples at UMMZ in order to finally establish at least some genetic baseline for Alvord cutthroat trout?  (Mary indicated that she would also do micro-satellite analysis of the handful of phenotypes that were set to her via TU in 2010.)

Establishing this baseline may prove invaluable in the event that “additional” or “other” remnants of Alvord cutthroat trout are yet found in this remote unpopulated region of SE Oregon and NW Nevada. Perhaps WNTI or other funding sources would support such a significant project. Please let us know your thoughts. If there are any other potential revenue sources to help fund this project — we would certainly be willing to offer any assistance possible.

Thank you for your consideration of supporting an ‘Alvord Basin and Sheldon/Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge’ native trout discovery and identification project.


David and Carmela Kortum

—–Original Message—–
From: Mary M Peacock
Sent: Monday, June 11, 2012 11:26 AM
To: David Kortum
Subject: RE: Alvord project

Hi David – Yes I do have those samples and have not included them but will put in the queue for the microsatellite analysis here. As far as the SNP analysis there are too few to send to Carlos as he does lots of 96 when he runs samples.

Mary M. Peacock, Ph.D.

Department of Biology/MS 314

Co-Director Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology Graduate Program

University of Nevada, Reno

Reno, Nevada 89557

From: David B. Kortum
Sent: Sunday, June 10, 2012 10:23 PM
To: Mary M Peacock
Subject: RE: Alvord project

Hello Mary,

Thank you for your quick reply and for the update on the work with SNPs and the samples from ***** Creek included in your analysis.

I’ll plan to touch base this week with the chapters of TU that have expressed interest in helping facilitate the analysis of the 1934 Hubbs’ alvordensis collection at UMMZ.

To the best of your knowledge, are the handful of ***** phenotype clips from 2010 (taken via Shannon and TU) still in your possession?  We believe that some of those clips would merit inclusion in the analysis with, and comparison with, the pre-hybridization Hubbs’ specimens at UMMZ.

Thank you again for your time and for the update.


David and Carmela Kortum

—–Original Message—–
From: Mary M Peacock
Sent: Friday, May 25, 2012 1:35 PM
To: David Kortum
Cc: Helen Neville
Subject: Alvord project

Hi David – I just had a conversation with my lab manager and this is a back of the envelope outline of the project and cost that we have come up with. If we can get this funded it will be a great project. To be sure that we have diagnostic markers for Alvord we would need to look at most of the cutthroat trout subspecies. For the SNP project I did with Carlos Garza (NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center) we developed SNPs to

1.       distinguish between Lahontans and rainbows (16 markers)

2.       identify pure Lahontans and hybridized fish, but not the identity of who they hybridized with (24 markers)

3.       identify pure Yellowstone cuts, Yellowstone-Lahontan hybridized fish and hybrids that we do not know the identity of who they hybridized with (10 markers).

4.       We also have 36 markers that are variable within the Lahontans

We also have 23 microsatellite markers for Lahontans

I just looked at our SNP data and we had included ***** Creek in this analysis. ***** has Lahontan genotypes, rainbow-Lahontan hybrids, pure Yellowstone and a lot of Yellowstone-Lahontan hybrids. Every fish in our sample of 21 fish can be identified as a Lahontan, Yellowstone or Yellowstone-Lahontan hybrid. However, it would be interesting to run these markers on known Alvords and see what we get.

Right now we have samples in our lab for Lahontans, rainbow, Paiute and Westslope cutthroat trout but I can get samples for the other subspecies from Andy Martin in CU Boulder.

I have asked Carlos if he would be interested in working on this with us.

A rough estimate for total cost is around $45,000. I will talk to both Helen and Carlos about ideas for funding.


Mary M. Peacock, Ph.D.

Department of Biology/MS 314

Co-Director Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology Graduate Program

University of Nevada, Reno

Reno, Nevada 89557

It would seem pretty much inevitable that there have been Yellowstone cutts turned loose in ***** Creek — though that doesn’t diminish our thought that Alvords were placed there as well (along with perhaps a few other strains of ‘unauthorized’ trout).  At least Mary is still inclined to test the original alvordensis specimens at UMMZ…  And if that analysis can be accomplished; it will hopefully provide some answers that otherwise would not be attainable.

In all honesty, part of the challenge is to keep fighting for analysis of the Hubbs’ samples — and for hopefully more answers — in spite of the tendency to feel disappointed with what has been ascertained thus far. …At least there has been some effort, and some information determined, as a result of the analyses that have been performed.

Of course, as always, we’re open to input from the two of you — and we’ll keep you posted as new things come to pass.  (Joe, it seems that you may have mentioned that Rick might have a contact from Ted Williams’ organization?  Perhaps, since there is still some mystery revolving around Alvord cutthroat trout—and there may be some distinct benefit to establishing a genetic baseline for alvordensis—then maybe that would be an avenue worth pursuing?)  Anyway, please keep in touch as possible…

…There is a stream/pond there on the south end of what would be considered the south end of the Catlow Valley (just north of the end of ***** Basin) that is reported to have “small fish” in it.  We hope to investigate this summer…   Probably tui-chubs—but one never knows until one thoroughly checks things out…

Please don’t hesitate to write any time that you have a chance or feel so inclined.


David and Carmela Kortum

Alvord cutthroat trout phenotype 1

Alvord cutthroat trout phenotype 2

Alvord cutthroat trout phenotype

© KOD 6-2012

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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!
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One Response to Correspondence and Communication: Alvord Cutthroat Trout

  1. Jeromy Jording says:

    Interesting read. For whatever reason I stumbled upon your blog, and it sparked the memory that when I was a younger, budding biologist I worked in SE WA, performing stock assessment work with Snake River steelhead. One of the sub basins we regularly sampled was in very similar habitat these fish are inhabiting, it was called Asotin Creek. A small tributary to Asotin Creek, named Charlie Creek, year in and year out always contained parr that were ‘missing’ parr marks and looked almost exactly like the fish in this blog, just pure silver streaks. It never crossed our minds to examine them as cutt’s, but we sent them into WDFW headquarters a few times for ID (late 90’s) and the agency chalked it up to a phenotype phenomen of a maybe a small redband population that wasn’t anadramous. I wonder if they aren’t somehow related or the same species. . . at the least the phenotype is remarkable in its similarity.

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