Thermal ecology of subadult and adult muskellunge in a thermally enriched reservoir

The movement of adult muskellunge, Esox masquinongy Mitchill, has been investigated in a variety of systems, but temperature selection by muskellunge has not been examined where well‐oxygenated waters were available over a range of temperatures for much of the year. Thirty subadult and adult muskellunge tagged internally with temperature‐sensing radio tags were tracked from March 2010 to March 2011 in a Tennessee reservoir. Mean tag temperatures were 18.9 °C in spring (March to May), 22.1 °C in summer (June to August), 16.5 °C in autumn and 9.8 °C in winter (December to February). When the greatest range in water temperatures was available (7.1–33.3 °C; May to early August 2010), their realised thermal niche (mean ± 1 SD ) was 22.3 °C ± 1.8; the realised thermal niche was affected by fish size (smaller fish selected slightly warmer temperatures) but not sex. An electric generating steam plant discharging warm water resumed operation in January 2011, and most (86%) tagged fish occupied the plume where temperatures were ≈10 °C warmer than ambient water temperatures. No mortalities were observed 15 days later when plant operations ceased. Their affinity for the heated plume prompted concerns that muskellunge will be too easily exploited when the plant operates during winter.