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Prairie Streams In Eastern Montana

There are 4,200 warm water prairie streams, totaling 18,000 miles, in Montana's vast prairie ecosystem. An initial survey, started in 2003 by Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, revealed that many of these streams are teeming with life. For the stream survey fine nets were used to pull all of the fish in a reach of stream in order to identify, measure and count them before release. The depth and width of the water and water quality were measured and the substrate of the stream was examined. 39,827 individual fish were examined, involving 10 different species in each reach. Most of the fish were minnows or small species with names like brook stickleback, goldeye, emerald shiner, shorthead red horse and sand shiner. A total of 32 different species were encountered and 25 of them were Montana natives. While some of the fish are not typical sport fish, they are valuable components of the ecosystem and an important food source for sport fish such as sauger, pike and walleye, as well as for herons, kingfishers and other predators.

These species are well adapted to the warm, muddy, flood and dry conditions of the prairie, with unique adaptations that allow them to survive. Concerns about these tiny fish make us aware of their habitat. A prairie stream that is dry in August may be important for spawning when it's flowing with spring runoff. Certain improvements, such as vehicle crossings, can be designed to enable fish to migrate during periods of flow. The great diversity in these streams with 32 different species is not seen in cold water trout fisheries. The information gathered from the survey will contribute to understanding the life-cycle of these prairie minnows -- like the long-nosed dace and the fat-headed minnow -- and how they contribute to the more popular species that depend on them. ~

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