Trout fishing is one of the primary recreational activities in the southern Appalachians, with large amounts of fish stocked on a regular basis. However, very little is known regarding the fate of hatchery reared carcasses not captured by anglers, representing a likely important ecological resource to local communities. We tested the efficacy of underwater video to characterize short term decomposition and consumption by aquatic scavengers of native brook and non-native rainbow trout, Salvelinus fontinalis
and Oncorhychus mykiss
. This study took place on the Cherokee Qualla Boundary in North Carolina, a location with one of the highest riverine stocked trout densities in the eastern United States. During May 2017, 10 waterproof cameras were deployed for 1-hour intervals on each carcass twice daily for a period of 5 days. We observed that 75.3% of recorded video contained river chub, Nocomis micropogon
, with only 24.7% visited by crayfish, with a maximum of 9 and a mean of 1.93 for N. micropogon
. Half of the carcasses were removed within 2 days. Based on natural history evidence and some trail cameras, we believe that otters were removing carcasses. Otters showed no preference for either trout species. Underwater video allowed us to characterize initial decomposition within stream diurnal scavengers in a short period using a visual, non-destructive low-cost method. Future studies should monitor large mammalian scavengers to further elucidate the role of fish stocking on aquatic communities.
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