Lake tributaries in Yellowstone National Park allow unique study of whirling disease

BOZEMAN, MONT--The tributaries of Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park remind fisheries biologist Beth MacConnell of the three bears: Some tributaries may be too hot for the parasite that causes whirling disease; some may be too cold, and some might be just right.

Just what temperatures allow the infection to flourish is what MacConnell and other scientists hope to find out in a unique study this year in Yellowstone National Park.

Whirling disease attacks the cartilage of young fish, causing them to swirl in a circular pattern and fall victim to predators. The disease mainly affects rainbow trout and was discovered in Montana in 1994 and in Yellowstone National Park in 1998.

In Yellowstone Lake, 20 percent of adult native Yellowstone cutthroat are infected with the disease, MacConnell said. But scientists dont know if all of the lakes tributaries are infected or which ones support ideal conditions for the disease.

MacConnell is a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist in Bozeman, Mont., and a member of the whirling disease steering committee for the Montana University Water Center based at Montana State University. The Yellowstone study will be conducted by Todd Koel, the parks fisheries and aquatic sciences chief.

The Yellowstone study and 12 others in eight western states are the latest whirling disease projects funded with $700,000 from the National Partnership for the Management of Wild and Native Coldwater Fisheries. The partnership, created in 1995, is administered by the Montana Water Center and funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"Gradually the whole effort is moving from basic biology to field and applied research," said Water Center director Gretchen Rupp. "The overall purpose of the partnership is to devise and test methods for controlling whirling disease in nature. Were not there yet, but we have a much better understanding of the biology of the [parasite] than we did a few years

Contact: Annette Trinity-Stevens
Montana State University

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