Introduction and spread of the parasite Myxobolus cerebralis, the causative agent of whirling disease, has contributed to the collapse of wild trout populations throughout the intermountain west. Of concern is the risk the disease may have on conservation and recovery of native cutthroat trout. We employed a Bayesian belief network to assess probability of whirling disease in Colorado River and Rio Grande cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii pleuriticus and Oncorhynchus clarkii virginalis, respectively) within their current ranges in the southwest United States. Available habitat (as defined by gradient and elevation) for intermediate oligochaete worm host, Tubifex tubifex, exerted the greatest influence on the likelihood of infection, yet prevalence of stream barriers also affected the risk outcome. Management areas that had the highest likelihood of infected Colorado River cutthroat trout were in the eastern portion of their range, although the probability of infection was highest for populations in the southern, San Juan subbasin. Rio Grande cutthroat trout had a relatively low likelihood of infection, with populations in the southernmost Pecos management area predicted to be at greatest risk. The Bayesian risk assessment model predicted the likelihood of whirling disease infection from its principal transmission vector, fish movement, and suggested that barriers may be effective in reducing risk of exposure to native trout populations. Data gaps, especially with regard to location of spawning, highlighted the importance in developing monitoring plans that support future risk assessments and adaptive management for subspecies of cutthroat trout.
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