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Document Type

Thesis - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Wildlife and Fisheries Science

First Advisor

Charles Berry, JR.


No fish or habitat survey has ever been done on the mainstem Belle Fourche River in western South Dakota. My goal was to obtain a better understanding of the fish community and habitat in Great Plains prairie rivers. Specifically, my objectives were to 1) document the current distribution, species composition, and relative abundance of fishes, 2) quantify baseline physical habitat, 3) document channel catfish population structure and dynamic rate functions (size and age, condition, relative abundance, growth, mortality, and recruitment), and 4) investigate the growth of channel catfish in relation to river discharge. During June, July and August of 1996 and 1997, fishes and habitat information was collected from nine reaches on the mainstem Belle Fourche River. Modified fyke nets, baited hoop nets, trotlines, and bag seines were used to sample fish. Physical habitat data (e.g. bankfull width, depth, slope, substrate) were collected using transect methodology. I caught 28 species of fish representing eight families. Channel catfish, flathead chub, river carpsucker, sand shiner, shorthead redhorse, and white suckers were ubiquitous species. Cyprinidae ( 64. 7 % ), Ictaluridae ( 17. 8 % ), and Catostomidae (15.3 %) families dominated the catch in both years. Species richness increased in a downstream direction. In seven reaches, Jaccard's Species Similarity Index indicated similar fish communities between years within the same reach. At most reaches, river discharge increased in a downstream direction and was similar between years. However, discharge at reaches three and nine were nearly two times greater in 1997. Stream widths, bankfull widths, top-of-bank widths, width-to-depth ratios increased in a downstream direction with a few exceptions. Bankfull depth and bank height were highly variable between years and among reaches. I observed a decrease in the amount of gravel and sand, and an increase in cobble and shale between reach two and three both years. This change in substrate may be attributed to the diversion dam located between reach two and three. In both years, relative species composition (% of catch) of channel catfish was 14.3-21.1 %, indicating a moderately dense population in comparison to other rivers. The channel catfish size structure was dominated by small individuals. Proportional stock density of channel catfish in 10-mm mesh (bar measure) modified fyke nets was 59 ± 11 in 1996 (N=44 stock-length fish) and 25 ± 6 in 1997 (N= 110 stock-length fish). Proportional stock density of channel catfish in baited 25-mm mesh (bar measure) hoop nets was 39 ± 8 (89 stock-length) in 1996 and 33 ± 17 (21 stock-length fish) in 1997. Relative weight of channel catfish was comparable to other river systems. Mean relative weight for sub-stock length channel catfish was 101 ± 1 in 1996 and 99 ± 2 in 1997. Growth for age-1 and -2 channel catfish equaled or exceeded that in other rivers. However, age 3 and older channel catfish had relatively slower growth in comparison to other rivers in Wyoming and Iowa. Channel catfish growth tended to be better in high water years than in dry water years, but a significant two-way interaction prevented interpretation of the main effects of age and water phase. Data collected from the Belle Fourche River provide insight into the fish community, habitat structure, and channel catfish population dynamics of Great Plains prairie rivers. My data will provide managers and biologists additional information that may facilitate development of a regional index of biotic integrity or other fish community assessments in western South Dakota.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Fish communities--Belle Fourche River Watershed (Wyo. and S.D.)
Fishes--Habitat--Belle Fourche River Watershed (Wyo. and S.D.)


Includes bibliographical references (pages 114-126)



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University


Copyright © 1998 Ryan D. Doorenbos. All rights reserved.