Predicting Climate Change Impacts on River Ecosystems and Salmonids across the Pacific Northwest

Project Summary

Affiliation(s): Northwest CSC

Principal Investigator(s):
  • Clint C Muhlfeld (USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center)
  • Gordon Luikart (The University of Montana)

Salmonids, a group of coldwater adapted fishes of enormous ecological and socio-economic value, historically inhabited a variety of freshwater habitats throughout the Pacific Northwest (PNW). Over the past century, however, populations have dramatically declined due to habitat loss, overharvest, and invasive species. Consequently, many populations are listed as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Complicating these stressors is global warming and associated climate change. Overall, aquatic ecosystems across the PNW are predicted to experience increasingly earlier snowmelt in the spring, reduced late spring and summer flows, increased winter flooding, warmer and drier summers, increased water temperatures, and expansion of invasive species. Understanding how effects of climate change might influence habitat for native salmonid populations is critical for effective management and recovery of these species. Scientists at the USGS and University of Montana used novel techniques and empirical data to study how climate change may drive landscape scale impacts that affect freshwater habitats and populations of key salmonid species (bull trout, cutthroat trout, and steelhead) throughout the PNW. Results showed strong linkages between climatic drivers (temperature and flow regimes) and the distribution, abundance, and genetic diversity of native salmonids across the PNW. Specifically, warming temperatures and shifting flow regimes are expected to fragment stream systems and cause salmonids to retreat upstream to headwater areas, thereby decreasing fish population abundance and genetic diversity, both of which are critical for persistence in a changing landscape. Climate-change‐induced periods of decreasing spring snowmelt and increases in stream temperatures are likely to decrease native biodiversity by fostering cross-breeding between invasive and native trout species. The study also developed a new framework for assessing the vulnerability of freshwater species to climate change and other stressors in complex stream networks, which will aid managers in proactively implementing conservation programs to increase resiliency and adaptive capacity of aquatic species.

USGS Research Ecologist with westslope cutthroat trout - Credit: Noah Clayton

Affiliation(s): Northwest CSC

Principal Investigator(s):
  • Clint C Muhlfeld (USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center)
  • Gordon Luikart (The University of Montana)
  • Tim Beechie (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries)
  • John Duffield (The University of Montana)
  • Leslie A Jones (USGS, Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center)
  • John Kimball (The University of Montana)
  • Erin Landguth (The University of Montana)
  • Gregory Pederson (USGS, Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center)
  • Jack Stanford (The University of Montana)
  • Robin Waples (NOAA Fisheries)

Start Date: 2012

End Date: 2014

Project Status: Completed

Tags: salmonids, vulnerability, spatially explicity models, river analysis project (RAP), stream temperature, flow, vulnerability assessment, Northwest, Northwest, CSC, Northwest CSC, 2012, Water and Ice, Wildlife and Plants, Fish, Rivers, Streams and Lakes

Fiscal Year: FY 2012 Projects

Publications & Other

  • Accounting for adaptive capacity and uncertainty in assessments of species’ climate-change vulnerability

        • Applications of genetic data to improve management and conservation of river fishes and their habitats

              • Assessments of species' vulnerability to climate change: From pseudo to science

                  • Climate variables explain neutral and adaptive variation within salmonid metapopulations: The importance of replication in landscape genetics

                        • Combining demographic and genetic factors to assess population vulnerability in stream species

                            • Genetic diversity is related to climatic variation and vulnerability in threatened bull trout

                                • Genomics and introgression: discovery and mapping of thousands of species-diagnostic SNPs using RAD sequencing

                                      • Invasive hybridization in a threatened species is accelerated by climate change

                                          • Landscape community genomics: understanding eco-evolutionary processes in complex environments

                                              • Final Report: Predicting Climate Change Impacts on River Ecosystems and Salmonids across the Pacific Northwest: Combining Vulnerability Modeling, Landscape Genomics, and Economic Evaluations for Conservation

                                                • NWCSC_FY12_USGS_Muhlfeld_FinalReport_21May15.pdf Predicting Climate Change Impacts on River Ecosystems and Salmonids... (Download)


                                                  • Bull trout populations, recovery units, watershed, and allelic richness values across the Columbia River, USA

                                                    • Bull Trout Vulnerability Assessment in Columbia River Basin Geodatabase

                                                      Download all map files

                                                      • Studyarea_PNW.shp [x-gis/x-shapefile] (Download)
                                                      • Studyarea_PNW.dbf [application/octet-stream] (Download)
                                                      • Studyarea_PNW.shx [x-gis/x-shapefile] (Download)
                                                      • Studyarea_PNW.prj [text/plain] (Download)
                                                      • Studyarea_PNW.shp.xml [application/fgdc+xml] (Download)
                                                      • Studyarea_PNW.sbn [x-gis/x-shapefile] (Download)
                                                      • Studyarea_PNW.sbx [x-gis/x-shapefile] (Download)