Gila elegans 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Actinopterygii Cypriniformes Cyprinidae

Scientific Name: Gila elegans Baird & Girard, 1853
Common Name(s):
English Bonytail, Bonytail Chub

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered B1ab(v)+2ab(v); C2a(i) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2013
Date Assessed: 2012-02-08
Assessor(s): NatureServe
Reviewer(s): Smith, K. & Darwall, W.R.T.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Hammerson, G.A. & Ormes, M.
This species is listed as Critically Endangered because no self-sustaining populations are known to exist; hence extent of occurrence and area of occupancy by viable populations are essentially nil, and number of locations is zero if only self-sustaining populations are counted; trend is unknown, but wild population is probably declining; adult population size is unknown but very small.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Bonytails were formerly abundant throughout the Colorado River and its larger tributaries, including the Green River north to the reach now inundated by Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming and Utah, the Yampa and Gunnison rivers in Colorado, and the Colorado River in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and California), and probably also the San Juan River in New Mexico and the Gila and Salt rivers in Arizona (Lee et al. 1980, USFWS 1990, Muth et al. 2000). Documented records exist for Lake Havasu, Lake Mohave, and Grand Canyon in the Lower Colorado River Basin; and Lake Powell, the Colorado River (Cataract Canyon, Green River confluence, Utah; Black Rocks, Colorado), Gunnison River near Delta, Colorado, Green River (Gray Canyon, Utah; Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado and Utah; Hideout Canyon, Utah), and lower Yampa River, Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado), in the Upper Colorado River Basin (USFWS 2002).

An unknown but small number of wild adults exist in Lake Mohave on the mainstem Colorado River of the Lower Colorado River Basin (i.e., downstream of Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona), and there are small numbers of wild individuals in the Green River and upper Colorado River subbasins of the Upper Colorado River Basin (USFWS 2002). USFWS (2002) listed only two locations (Lake Mohave on the Arizona-Nevada border and Lake Havasu along the Arizona-California border) where wild bonytails have been documented since 1990.

As of the early 1990s, populations were being established in urban lakes in Tempe, on the Buenos Aires NWR, and at TNC's Hassayampa Reserve, all in Arizona; plans called for stocking of experimental populations into Arizona streams (Minckley and Deacon 1991).
Countries occurrence:
United States
Regionally extinct:
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:Currently no self-sustaining populations of Bonytail exist in the wild (USFWS 2002).

Total adult population size is unknown but apparently is very small.

This species formerly was widespread and abundant; today it occurs in the wild as only a few scattered individuals and is regarded as functionally extinct (USFWS 1990, Muth et al. 2000). In the Green River basin, this species has been virtually nonexistent in recent collections (Muth et al. 2000). The last observed large concentration of Bonytail occurred 1954 when about 500 adults were observed spawning over a gravel shelf in Lake Mohave, Arizona-Nevada (Jonez and Sumner 1954). Collections of Bonytail in Lake Mohave yielded at least 50 specimens in the 1970s and 1980s, but USFWS (2002) reported that only one Bonytail subsequently was captured there. Significant numbers of Bonytail were last captured in the Upper Colorado River Basin (lower Yampa River and Green River below the Yampa) in the 1960s and early 1970s, shortly after the closure of Flaming Gorge Dam. Since then, only a few single captures were recorded (all in the 1980s) in the entire Upper Colorado River Basin (USFWS 2002).

Recent trend is unknown because so few Bonytails have been captured. Wild population probably is declining.
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Gila elegans is a warm-water species that appears to favour main-stem rivers regardless of turbidity, usually in or near deep swift water, in flowing pools and eddies just outside the main current. It also has been found in reservoirs. Available data suggest that habitats required for conservation include river channels and flooded, ponded, or inundated riverine habitats, especially those where competition from non-native fishes is absent or reduced (USFWS, Federal Register, 21 March 1994).

Spawning occurs probably in spring over rocky substrates; spawning in reservoirs has been observed over rocky shoals and shorelines (USFWS 2002). Flooded bottomland habitats appear to be important growth and conditioning areas, particularly as nursery habitats for young (USFWS 2002).
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Threats to the species include habitat modifications resulting from streamflow regulation, dams that function as movement barriers on main-stem rivers, competition with and predation by nonnative fish species, hybridization (possibly), and pesticides and pollutants (USFWS 2002). The significance of, and factors leading to, hybridization with other Gila species are unclear, and this factor is not regarded as an important threat at the present time (USFWS 2002). However, hybridization should be evaluated as Bonytails are released into the wild and populations become established (USFWS 2002). Low population size and lack of recruitment are major obstacles to recovery.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Management actions needed include the following (USFWS (2002):
  1. Reestablish populations with hatchery-produced fish.
  2. Identify genetic variability of Bonytail and maintain a genetic refuge in a suitable location in the lower basin.
  3. Provide and legally protect habitat (including flow regimes necessary to restore and maintain required environmental conditions) necessary to provide adequate habitat and sufficient range for all life stages to support recovered populations.
  4. Provide passage over barriers within occupied habitat to allow unimpeded movement and, potentially, range expansion.
  5. Investigate options for providing appropriate water temperatures in the Gunnison River.
  6. Minimize entrainment of subadults and adults at diversion/out-take structures.
  7. Investigate habitat requirements for all life stages and provide those habitats.
  8. Ensure adequate protection from overutilization.
  9. Ensure adequate protection from diseases and parasites.
  10. Regulate nonnative fish releases and escapement into the main river, floodplain, and tributaries.
  11. Control problematic nonnative fishes as needed.
  12. Minimize the risk of increased hybridization among Gila spp.
  13. Minimize the risk of hazardous-materials spills in critical habitat.
  14. Remediate water-quality problems
  15. Provide for the long-term management and protection of populations and their habitats beyond delisting (i.e., conservation plans).
Information on Bonytail habitat requirements is limited, but the flow and temperature recommendations made for the other endangered native fishes in the Green River basin would presumably benefit any Bonytails that may remain in the system and would not limit their future recovery potential (Muth et al. 2000).

Classifications [top]

5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.1. Wetlands (inland) - Permanent Rivers/Streams/Creeks (includes waterfalls)
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
2. Land/water management -> 2.2. Invasive/problematic species control
2. Land/water management -> 2.3. Habitat & natural process restoration
3. Species management -> 3.3. Species re-introduction -> 3.3.1. Reintroduction
3. Species management -> 3.4. Ex-situ conservation -> 3.4.1. Captive breeding/artificial propagation

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
  Action Recovery plan:Yes
  Systematic monitoring scheme:Yes
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Conservation sites identified:Yes, over entire range
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education
7. Natural system modifications -> 7.2. Dams & water management/use -> 7.2.10. Large dams
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines ⇒ Impact score:Medium Impact: 6 
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

8. Invasive and other problematic species, genes & diseases -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien species/diseases -> 8.1.1. Unspecified species
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Whole (>90%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines ⇒ Impact score:Medium Impact: 7 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.3. Indirect species effects -> 2.3.1. Hybridisation
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.3. Indirect species effects -> 2.3.2. Competition

9. Pollution -> 9.3. Agricultural & forestry effluents -> 9.3.3. Herbicides and pesticides
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

9. Pollution -> 9.3. Agricultural & forestry effluents -> 9.3.4. Type Unknown/Unrecorded
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

Bibliography [top]

California Department of Fish and Game (CDF&G). 1990. 1989 annual report on the status of California's state listed threatened and endangered plants and animals.

Chart, T.E. and Cranney, J.S. 1991. Radio-telemetered monitoring of stocked bonytail chubs (Gila elegans) in the Green River, Utah, 1988-1989. Draft Final Report. Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Dowling, T.E. and DeMarais, B.D. 1993. Evolutionary significance of introgressive hybridization in cyprinid fishes. Nature 362: 444-446.

Gerber, A.S., Tibbets, C.A. and Dowling, T.E. 2001. The role of introgressive hybridization in the evolution of the Gila robusta complex (Teleostei: Cyprinidae). Evolution 55: 2028-2039.

Hamman, R.L. 1985. Induced spawning of hatchery-reared bonytail. Progressive Fish-Culturist 47: 239-241.

IUCN. 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (ver. 2013.1). Available at: (Accessed: 12 June 2013).

Jonez, A. and Sumner, R.C. 1954. Lakes Mead and Mohave investigations: a comparative study of an established reservoir as related to a newly created impoundment. Final Report. Federal Aid Wildlife Restoration (Dingell-Johnson) Project F-l-R. Nevada Game and Fish Commission, Carson City, Nevada.

Kaeding, L.R., Burdick, B.D., Schrader, P.A. and Noonan, W.R. 1986. Recent capture of a bonytail (Gila elegans) and observations on this nearly extinct cyprinid from the Colorado River. Copeia 1986(4): 1021-1023.

Lee, D.S., Gilbert, C.R., Hocutt, C.H., Jenkins, R.E., McAllister, D.E. and Stauffer, J.R., Jr. 1980. Atlas of North American freshwater fishes. North Carolina State Museum of Natural History, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Lenon, N., Stave, K., Burke, T. and Deacon, J.E. 2002. Bonytail (Gila elegans) may enhance survival of razorback suckers (Xyrauchen texanus) in rearing ponds by preying on exotic crayfish. Journal of the Arizona-Nevada Academy of Science 34(1): 46-52.

Matthews, J.R. and Moseley, C.J. (eds). 1990. The Official World Wildlife Fund Guide to Endangered Species of North America. Volume 1. Plants, Mammals. xxiii + pp 1-560 + 33 pp. appendix + 6 pp. glossary + 16 pp. index, pp. 1180. Beacham Publications, Inc., Washington, D.C.

Miller, R.R. (with the collaboration of Minckley, W.L. and Norris, S.M.). 2006. Freshwater Fishes of Mexico. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois.

Miller, W.H., Tyus, H.M. and Carlson, C.A. 1982. Fishes of the upper Colorado system: present and future. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, Maryland.

Minckley, W.L. 1973. Fishes of Arizona. Arizona Game and Fish Department, Phoenix, Arizona.

Minckley, W.L. and Deacon, J.E. 1991. Battle Against Extinction: Native Fish Management in the American West. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona.

Minckley, W.L. and Marsh, P.C. 2009. Inland fishes of the greater Southwest: chronicle of a vanishing biota. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona.

Moyle, P.B. 2002. Inland fishes of California. Revised and expanded. University of California Press, Berkeley, California.

Muth, R.T., Crist, L.W., LaGory, K.E., Hayse, J.W., Bestgen, K.R., Ryan, T.P., Lyons, J.K. and Valdez, R.A. 2000. Flow and temperature recommendations for endangered fishes in the Green River downstream of Flaming Gorge Dam. Final Report. Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program Project FG-53.

Nelson, J.S., Crossman, E.J., Espinosa-Perez, H., Findley, L.T., Gilbert, C.R., Lea, R.N. and Williams, J.D. 2004. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States, Canada, and Mexico. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, Maryland.

Page, L.M. and Burr, B.M. 1991. A field guide to freshwater fishes: North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts.

Page, L.M. and Burr, B.M. 2011. Peterson field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, Massachusetts.

Rinne, J.N., Johnson, J.E., Jensen, B.L., Ruger, A.W. and Sorenson, R. 1986. The role of hatcheries in the management and recovery of threatened and endangered fishes. In: R.H. Stroud (ed.), Fish culture in fisheries management, pp. 271-285. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, Maryland.

Robins, C.R., Bailey, R.M., Bond, C.E., Brooker, J.R., Lachner, E.A., Lea, R.N. and Scott, W.B. 1991. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States and Canada. American Fisheries Society.

Rosenfeld, M.J. and Wilkinson, J.A. 1989. Biochemical genetics of the Colorado River Gila complex (Pisces: Cyprinidae). Southwestern Naturalist 34(2): 232-244.

Smith G.R., Miller, R.R. and Sable, W.D. 1979. Species relationships among fishes of the genus Gila in the Upper Colorado River drainage. In: R. Linn (ed.), Proceedings of the First Conference on Scientific Research in the National Parks, pp. 613-623. New Orleans, Louisiana.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 1990. Bonytail chub recovery plan. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Denver, Colorado.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 1990. Endangered and threatened species recovery program: report to Congress.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 1993. Notice of availability of draft agreement regarding Section 7 consultation, sufficient progress and historic projects, recovery implementation program for the endangered fish species in the upper Colorado River basin, and the draft recovery implementation program recovery action plan. Federal Register 58(159): 44188-44189.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 2002. Bonytail (Gila elegans) recovery goals: amendment and supplement to the bonytail chub recovery plan. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mountain-Prairie Region (6), Denver, Colorado.

Valdez, R.A. and Clemmer, G.H. 1982. Life history and prospects for recovery of the humpback and bonytail chub. In: W.H. Miller (ed.), Fishes of the Upper Colorado River System: present and future, pp. 109-119. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, Maryland.

Vanicek, C. D. 1967. Ecological studies of native Green River fishes below Flaming Gorge Dam, 19641966. Doctoral Dissertation, Utah State University.

Vanicek, C.D. and Kramer, R.H. 1969. Life history of the Colorado squawfish, Ptychocheilus lucius, and the Colorado chub, Gila robusta, in the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument, 1964-1966. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 98(2): 193-208.

Citation: NatureServe. 2013. Gila elegans. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2013: e.T9186A18232150. . Downloaded on 19 September 2018.
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