Fragmentation and thermal risks from climate change interact to affect persistence of native trout in the Colorado River basin

Roberts, J.J., K.D. Fausch, D.P. Peterson, and M.B. Hooten, 2013: “Fragmentation and thermal risks from climate change interact to affect persistence of native trout in the Colorado River basin.” Global Change Biology, v. 19, pp. 1383-1398, doi: 10.1111/gcb.12136.

Impending changes in climate will interact with other stressors to threaten aquatic ecosystems and their biota. Native Colorado River cutthroat trout (CRCT; Oncorhynchus clarkii pleuriticus) are now relegated to 309 isolated high-elevation (>1700 m) headwater stream fragments in the Upper Colorado River Basin, owing to past nonnative trout invasions and habitat loss. Predicted changes in climate (i.e., temperature and precipitation) and resulting changes in stochastic physical disturbances (i.e., wildfire, debris flow, and channel drying and freezing) could further threaten the remaining CRCT populations. We developed an empirical model to predict stream temperatures at the fragment scale from downscaled climate projections along with geomorphic and landscape variables. We coupled these spatially explicit predictions of stream temperature with a Bayesian Network (BN) model that integrates stochastic risks from fragmentation to project persistence of CRCT populations across the upper Colorado River basin to 2040 and 2080. Overall, none of the populations are at risk from acute mortality resulting from high temperatures during the warmest summer period. In contrast, only 37% of populations have a ≥90% chance of persistence for 70 years (similar to the typical benchmark for conservation), primarily owing to fragmentation. Populations in short stream fragments <7 km long, and those at the lowest elevations, are at the highest risk of extirpation. Therefore, interactions of stochastic disturbances with fragmentation are projected to be greater threats than warming for CRCT populations. The reason for this paradox is that past nonnative trout invasions and habitat loss have restricted most CRCT populations to high-elevation stream fragments that are buffered from the potential consequences of warming, but at risk of extirpation from stochastic events. The greatest conservation need is for management to increase fragment lengths to forestall these risks.

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Flow regime, temperature, and biotic interactions drive differential declines of trout species under climate change

Wenger, S.J., D.J. Isaak, C.H. Luce, H.M. Neville, K.D. Fausch, J.B. Dunham, D.C. Dauwalter, M.K. Young, M.M. Elsner, B.E. Rieman, A.F. Hamlet, and J.E. Williams, 2011: “Flow regime, temperature, and biotic interactions drive differential declines of trout species under climate change.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, v. 108, no. 34, pp. 14,175-14,180, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1103097108.

Broad-scale studies of climate change effects on freshwater species have focused mainly on temperature, ignoring critical drivers such as flow regime and biotic interactions. We use downscaled outputs from general circulation models coupled with a hydrologic model to forecast the effects of altered flows and increased temperatures on four interacting species of trout across the interior western United States (1.01 million sq km), based on empirical statistical models built from fish surveys at 9,890 sites. Projections under the 2080s A1B emissions scenario forecast a mean 47% decline in total suitable habitat for all trout, a group of fishes of major socioeconomic and ecological significance. We project that native cutthroat trout Oncorhynchus clarkii, already excluded from much of its potential range by nonnative species, will lose a further 58% of habitat due to an increase in temperatures beyond the species’ physiological optima and continued negative biotic interactions. Habitat for nonnative brook trout Salvelinus fontinalis and brown trout Salmo trutta is predicted to decline by 77% and 48%, respectively, driven by increases in temperature and winter flood frequency caused by warmer, rainier winters. Habitat for rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss, is projected to decline the least (35%) because negative temperature effects are partly offset by flow regime shifts that benefit the species. These results illustrate how drivers other than temperature influence species response to climate change. Despite some uncertainty, large declines in trout habitat are likely, but our findings point to opportunities for strategic targeting of mitigation efforts to appropriate stressors and locations.

Open Access

Social network models predict movement and connectivity in ecological landscapes

Fletcher, R.J., Jr., M.A. Acevedoa, B.E. Reicherta, K.E. Piasa, and W.M. Kitchens, 2011: “Social network models predict movement and connectivity in ecological landscapes.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, v. 108, no. 48, pp. 19,282-19,287, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1107549108.

Network analysis is on the rise across scientific disciplines because of its ability to reveal complex, and often emergent, patterns and dynamics. Nonetheless, a growing concern in network analysis is the use of limited data for constructing networks. This concern is strikingly relevant to ecology and conservation biology, where network analysis is used to infer connectivity across landscapes. In this context, movement among patches is the crucial parameter for interpreting connectivity but because of the difficulty of collecting reliable movement data, most network analysis proceeds with only indirect information on movement across landscapes rather than using observed movement to construct networks. Statistical models developed for social networks provide promising alternatives for landscape network construction because they can leverage limited movement information to predict linkages. Using two mark-recapture datasets on individual movement and connectivity across landscapes, we test whether commonly used network constructions for interpreting connectivity can predict actual linkages and network structure, and we contrast these approaches to social network models. We find that currently applied network constructions for assessing connectivity consistently, and substantially, overpredict actual connectivity, resulting in considerable overestimation of metapopulation lifetime. Furthermore, social network models provide accurate predictions of network structure, and can do so with remarkably limited data on movement. Social network models offer a flexible and powerful way for not only understanding the factors influencing connectivity but also for providing more reliable estimates of connectivity and metapopulation persistence in the face of limited data.

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