Preserving the Devils Hole Pupfish Population

The Devils Hole pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis) is a tough fish, able to survive in the waters of a single spring in Ash Meadows National Refuge. . These waters average 92-93 degrees Fahrenheit and are characterized by low dissolved oxygen and limited food sources. Water pumping in the late 1960s and 1970s, however, dropped water levels, threatening to destroy the shallow region in Devils Hole, a habitat critical for food production and spawning success. While the Supreme Court set minimum water levels for Devils Hole, the population has struggled ever since, reaching a low of only ~35 observable fish in 2006 and 2013. While the population has rebounded somewhat from these lows, there are still fewer than 200 individuals of this critically endangered species in the wild.

Detail of the shallow shelf area of the Refuge Tank (also pictured above) where adult Devils Hole pupfish are released.

Since 2013, GBI personnel have been helping with efforts to preserve this species. Of course, a part of this is the attempt to maintain conditions in Devils Hole that will continue to be conducive to its namesake fish. However, realizing just how precarious these conditions are, an important part of saving Cyprinodon diabolis is creating a backup population. Enter the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service‘s Ash Meadows Fish Conservation Facility (AMFCF), completed in June, 2013. This facility combines a fish hatchery with an artificial ecosystem that simulates the natural environment of Devils Hole.

In support of the AMFCF, GBI Research Associates are charged with monitoring, recording, and controlling water quality within the tank. In doing so, they attend to temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, and flow rate, using specialized Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) software. Additionally, they control ambient air temperature and light by manually opening and closing louvers on the roof of refuge tank enclosure.

A pupfish in the propagation room. This individual is approximately 3 months old. This fish was retrieved as an egg from the Refuge Tank in July.

RA Mitch Stanton was kind enough to provide us with images and video of the work being done. Mitch explains: “Through the collaboration with government agencies, eggs are sourced from the wild population, reared in captivity, and released into an artificial refuge ecosystem. The video shows this process from retrieving eggs from Devils Hole, rearing larvae, and releasing adults into the refuge tank at the Ash Meadows Fish Conservation Facility.”

Featured in the video are the following personnel:

  • Facility manager: Jennifer Gumm (USFW)
  • Refuge manager: Corey Lee  (USFW)
  • Aquaculturist: Olin Feuerbacher  (USFW)
  • NPS biologist: Jeffery Goldstein (NPS)
  • Biological Science Specialist: Mitch Stanton (GBI)

Our thanks to Mitch and all of those working to preserve the rare and fascinating Devils Hole pupfish.

Leave a Reply