Recent declines of anadromous salmonids in the Pacific Northwest have prompted a need to understand the factors limiting populations across habitats and life stages. In the weeks following emergence from the spawning gravel, juvenile salmonids have limited swimming capacity and can be particularly vulnerable to predation by piscivores, such as sculpins (Cottus sp.) which are widespread in Pacific Northwest streams. The objective of this study was to investigate the extent to which sculpin prey on newly emerged steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in a threatened population in Idaho. Three species of sculpin were present in the watershed, including Paiute (C. beldingii), mottled (C. bairdii), and torrent (C. rhotheus) sculpin. Gut content analyses of 360 sculpin showed that invertebrates were the dominant food source (> 85% of all sculpin preyed mainly on invertebrates), and piscivory was rare (< 2%). None of the samples contained steelhead alevins. We conclude that there was no indication of predation during emergence in our study system, but note that future studies should incorporate stable isotope analyses or directly investigate the extent to which sculpin prey on salmonid eggs.
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Vol. 90 • No. 4