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Distribution and Dispersal of Fishes
in the Red River Basin


Fishes in The Red River of the North Basin

The first published survey of fishes in the Red River and its tributaries in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota was by Woolman (1896), other early Minnesota surveys by Cox (1897) and Surber (1920) provided several references to fishes in the Red River, and Hankinson (1929) surveyed fishes of the Red River and its tributaries in North Dakota. Many other surveys of fishes of the Red River basin have been made (see Table 1 and the literature cited section for sources consulted in this study, and Figs. 1, 2, and 3 for locations of sites sampled during the years 1892-1961, 1962-1977, and 1978-1994). Besides these published reports, we obtained records from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MNDNR) at Bemidji and Detroit Lakes and from the Ecological Services Section of MNDNR; the North Dakota Game and Fish Department; the North Dakota State Department of Health; National Water Quality Assessment (NAQWA) for the Red River basin; museum records from the University of Michigan; the Bell Museum of Natural History (University of Minnesota); the Smithsonian Institution; and master's thesis from the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, and the University of Minnesota. In 1994 we seined sites in the Rush River in North Dakota to provide additional records of fishes and in the Clearwater River drainage in Minnesota to verify the occurrence of the mottled sculpin.

For each species reported in the Red River drainage in the United States (Minnesota, North and South Dakota) we provide documentation of dates and locations where it was collected, a brief accounting of its relative abundance and habitat requirements, and its current distribution in drainages adjacent to the Red River basin in Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota (Missouri River drainage), and in the Red River drainage in Manitoba. Common and scientific names are from Robins et al. (1991). Hybrid fishes, mostly of centrarchids reported in the literature review are not included. The goldfish (Carassius auratus), reported from the Sheyenne River near Lisbon, and the golden orf (Leuciscus idus), reported from the Red and Buffalo rivers, were not included in the list of species in the Red River basin as these were likely introductions from aquaria that have not been able to establish populations in the basin.

Where enough information was available, the percent of the total sites sampled in the basin in which each species occurred was used to indicate whether it was rare or common, and the percent occurrence in sites sampled in various ecoregions was used to indicate regions within the basin where it is most successful. These percentages were determined from surveys conducted since 1962 to help include sampling that took place in the entire Red River basin. Ecoregions were defined by Omernik and Gallant (1988), and are shown in Fig. 4. Ecoregions are generally considered to be regions of relative homogeneity in ecological systems or in relationships between organisms and their environments. Ecoregions are delineated by their homogeneous soils, land use, land surface form and potential natural vegetation (Omernik and Gallant 1988).

GIF-Ecoregions of the Red River of the North Basin
Figure 4. Ecoregions of the Red River of the North Basin.

The Red River basin in the United States encompasses 36,400 mi2 in North Dakota, Minnesota, and South Dakota (Fig. 5). Much of the basin lies within the lake bed of glacial Lake Agassiz, which covered northwestern Minnesota and eastern North Dakota 12,000 bp, creating the broad, flat, plain of the Red River Valley. The river drops 200 ft. in elevation with an average gradient to only 0.5 ft/mi from its source at Wahpeton, North Dakota, to the Canadian border. The mean annual flow of the Red River is 554 cfs at Wahpeton and 4390 cfs at the border near Emerson, Manitoba (Stoner et al. 1993). Because of regional precipitation and evapotranspiration patterns, runoff is lowest at the southwest and highest at the northeast portions of the basin. Mean annual runoff (depth to which drainage area would be covered if all of the runoff for the year were uniformly distributed on it) ranges from 0.49 in. for the Wild Rice River at Abercrombie, North Dakota, to 4.07 in. for the Red Lake River at High Landing, Minnesota. The majority of flow received by the Red River is from eastern (Minnesota) tributaries, with about 33% of discharge at the Canadian border contributed by the Red Lake River. The region is prone to both flooding and drought, and many of the small tributaries in North Dakota have low or no flow during late summer.

GIF-Streams of the Red River Basin
Figure 5. Major Streams in the Red River of the North Basin.

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