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Abundance and Habitat-related Use of White Sands Pupfish

Colleen Caldwell chilling on White Sands National Monument


December 2013 - November 2019


Small-bodied fishes represent a monitoring challenge when they are locally abundant, short-lived, and alter their reproductive strategy as environmental conditions vary. Use of minnow traps with an index of abundance (i.e., catch-per-unit-effort, CPUE) for White Sands pupfish (Cyprinodon tularosa) can be affected by basic methodological choices such as trap soak time (i.e., effort) as well as the timing and location of trap placement. Movement into and out of minnow traps by the pupfish affected CPUE. White Sands pupfish exited traps at frequencies that were nearly equivalent to the rate of entering, suggesting total catch and thereby CPUE, are strongly influenced by factors that determine the probability of an animal exiting the trap. In addition, CPUE was weakly correlated with a more robust estimate of abundance (Lincoln-Peterson estimator) suggesting CPUE is not a good index for abundance especially when trap soak times are variable.

Validation of Otolith Deposition in Laboratory and Field-reared White Sands Pupfish - Otolithic organs (earbones in fish) can be used to accurately evaluate the age of a fish. If otolith increments are deposited daily and time of hatch (onset) is known. To use this aging technique for White Sands pupfish, a validation study was completed to characterize deposition of daily increments and retrospectively relate the number of otolith increments with the known age of the fish.

Reproductive Strategies of White Sands Pupfish inhabiting Stable versus Unstable Habitats - White Sands pupfish was used to test the hypothesis that mate choice strategies are influenced by environmental stability. Wild fish were collected from two locations each characterized by either highly variable flows marked by stream drying and extreme temperatures or stable flows with consistent diel patterns of water temperature. Detectable differences were observed between pupfish from stable versus unstable stream environments in both the distribution of eggs. Additionally, reproductive effort was detectably different between fish from stable versus unstable environments. These results suggests that reproductive investment may decrease as habitat stability decreases due to the breakdown of reliable reproductive signals.

Research Products and Activities

Peer Reviewed Publications

  • Peterson, D., R.B. Trantham, T.G. Trantham, and C.A. Caldwell. Tagging effects of passive integrated transponder and visual implant elastomer on the small-bodied White Sands pupfish (Cyprinodon tularosa). Journal of Fisheries Research (online publication completed 24 September 2017); Abstract | 

Technical Publications

  • Caldwell, C.A. and D. Peterson. 2017. White Sands pupfish populations throughout their range on two military installations in South Central New Mexico. Interim Progress Report. Environmental Stewardship Branch, Department of Army. White Sands Missile Range. 54 pages.Abstract |


  • Peterson, D., T. Trantham, R. Simpson, and C.A. Caldwell. 2015. Effects of passive integrated transponder and visual elastomeric tagging on survival and growth of a small-bodied southwestern pupfish (Cyprinodon tularosa). 47th Annual Meeting of the Desert Fishes Council. Death Valley National Park, California. 18-22 November.
  • Baca, A., D. Peterson, and C.A. Caldwell. 2016. Reproductive Strategies of White Sands Pupfish (Cyprinodon tularosa) Inhabiting Stable and Stochastic Habitats. Desert Fishes Council, Albuquerque, New Mexico. November 15-19.
  • Peterson, D. and C.A. Caldwell. 2016. Why Catch-Per-Unit-Effort is Insufficient as an Index of Abundance for the White Sands Pupfish (Cyprinodon tularosa). Desert Fishes Council. Albuquerque, New Mexico, 15-19 November.
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Current Staff

Federal Staff: 101

Masters Students: 239

Phd Students: 154

Post Docs: 55

University Staff: 241

5 Year Summary

Students graduated: 695

Scientific Publications: 1962

Presentations: 4417



Funding Agencies

  • White Sands Missle Range -Environmental Surveillance Division


Cooperative Research Units Program Headquarters Cooperators

  1. U.S. Geological Survey