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Habitat Requirements of Larval and Adult Desert Fishes in Cherry Creek, Arizona: Implications for Water Rights Litigation

Flash flood in an Arizona stream


September 2008 - October 2016


Knowledge of flow, temperature and other habitat requirements are critically important for protecting desert fish communities. Recently, mining companies and other interests have been challenging flow requirements for desert streams. As part of team of riparian ecologists, in-stream flow modelers, and fish ecologists we determined the habitat and flow requirements for fishes in Cherry Creek (Tonto National Forest), Arizona. Using a variety of sampling techniques, our goal was to determine which habitats in the creek are suitable for each fish species in the community. We assessed substrate type, water current velocity, depth, and other physical habitat, and water variables, and sampled the fish community. We then analyzed data to unveil the relationships between a given species and the habitat attributes. This information was used to develop habitat suitability criteria. These criteria were used for in-stream flow models of the creek to determine how different water levels affect desert fish communities. The US Forest Service used this information in test cases for aquatic habitat protection in desert streams. A technical report was published, preparation for trial re: Cherry Creek commenced, and before the trial, in January 2016, the mining company dropped objection for the protection of in-stream flow in Cherry Creek. In October 2016, the State of Arizona awarded a water right to protect in-stream flow in Cherry Creek to the United States.

Research Products and Activities

Technical Publications

  • Bonar, S. A., N. Mercado-Silva, and D. Rogowski. 2010. Habitat use by the fishes of a southwestern desert stream: Cherry Creek, Arizona. Research Report. USGS Arizona Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, University of Arizona

Current Staff

Federal Staff: 95

Masters Students: 239

Phd Students: 143

Post Docs: 53

University Staff: 239

5 Year Summary

Students graduated: 701

Scientific Publications: 1949

Presentations: 4261



  • Scott BonarPrincipal Investigator
  • Norman Mercado-SilvaStaff

Funding Agencies

  • U.S. Forest Service


Cooperative Research Units Program Headquarters Cooperators

  1. U.S. Geological Survey