Little Quarry Lake Benthic Threespine Stickleback

Gasterosteus aculeatus

SARA Status
No Status
NS
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

SARA Status

  • No Status NS
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX
COSEWIC Status
Not at Risk
NR
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

COSEWIC Status

  • Not at Risk NR
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX

Description

Little Quarry Lake Benthic and Limnetic Threespine Sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) are one of several unique Threespine Stickleback Species Pairs that live in sympatry. Two species are sympatric when they exist in the same area, and evolved together from the same common ancestor. Despite similarities, genetic research supports that each pair evolved separately. The divergence from their common ancestor is thought to have occurred because of the limited competition and predation in their habitat. Benthic and Limnetic Threespine Sticklebacks occupy different parts of their shared environment and have adapted different feeding styles.

The Little Quarry Lake Benthic Threespine Stickleback is a small fish. The species has three (sometimes two) isolated dorsal spines. The Benthic species can be distinguished from the Limnetic species by its deeper and longer body, shorter dorsal and anal fins, smaller eye, and downward mouth. Both species develop a bright red throat during breeding season. Most Little Quarry Lake Benthic Threespine Sticklebacks lack a pelvic girdle. This is an unusual characteristic among Threespine Sticklebacks.

Habitat

The distribution of Little Quarry Lake Benthic and Limnetic Threespine Sticklebacks is very restricted. The two species are only found in Little Quarry Lake on Nelson Island in British Columbia.

Little Quarry Lake Benthic Threespine Sticklebacks live close to shore for their entire lifetime. Both Limnetic and Benthic species nest in nearshore gentle sloping silt, sand, or gravel beaches. Natural light is necessary for the species to recognize their mates. Little Quarry Lake Benthic Threespine Sticklebacks prefer to spawn in more protected areas, such as under aquatic plants. Both Limnetic and Benthic species move to deeper water habitats to overwinter.

Threats

Threats to Little Quarry Lake Benthic and Limnetic Threespine Sticklebacks are similar to those for other Stickleback Species Pairs. These fish are vulnerable to any habitat disruptions that could remove the naturally created barriers between the two species. The primary threat to the Little Quarry Lake Benthic Threespine Stickleback is the introduction of new species into Little Quarry Lake. Introduced species could prey on the Threespine Stickleback species and/or disrupt the habitat requirements of the pair. This has been seen in recent decades and caused the extinction of at least two Stickleback Species Pairs. Also, an introduced predator would likely pose a great threat to the Benthic species because the species does not have a pelvic girdle which acts as an important post-capture defense against fish predators.

Other threats to the Stickleback Species Pair include changes in water use by local recreational properties, forestry activities, and excessive scientific collections. Current land and water use within the habitat of Little Quarry Lake Benthic and Limnetic Threespine Sticklebacks is minimal and has had a limited effect to date.

Further Information

In 2007, a Recovery Strategy was published for Paxton Lake, Enos Lake, and Vananda Creek Stickleback Species Pairs. This Recovery Strategy describes the following for the Stickleback Species Pairs: biology, threats, recovery measures, and stewardship. Scientific collection guidelines for Stickleback Species Pairs, including the Little Quarry Lake Sticklebacks, were developed in 2008, with the aim to mitigate impacts of research activities. 

This species is under consideration for listing as Threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available on the Species at Risk Public Registry.

To find out more on how this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' website.

Little Quarry Lake Benthic Threespine Stickleback

Scientific name: Gasterosteus aculeatus
SARA Status: Under Consideration
COSEWIC Status: Threatened (November 2015)
Region: British Columbia

Region map

Region map, British Columbia

Did You Know?

Benthic and Limnetic Threespine Stickleback Species Pairs have evolved recently from their marine ancestors following the end of the last glaciation. This was just 13,000 years ago! Genetic evidence strongly supports the independent evolution of each pair, despite the similarities seen between pairs. The details of each pair’s origin are still not well understood.

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