Science to Inform Future Management of the Nation's Fisheries and Aquatic Habitat

Science Center Objects

Fisheries and aquatic habitats throughout the United States are in dire need of protection or restoration because human activities have resulted in severe degradation of those habitats. Further, future climatic changes will continue to affect human land-use, temperature, and water flows. Natural resource managers need to identify and prioritize habitats so that limited time and funding can be f...

Fisheries and aquatic habitats throughout the United States are in dire need of protection or restoration because human activities have resulted in severe degradation of those habitats. Further, future climatic changes will continue to affect human land-use, temperature, and water flows. Natural resource managers need to identify and prioritize habitats so that limited time and funding can be focused on habitats that are in most need of protection both now and in the future, based on projected climate changes. This project was comprised of a team of scientists from the US Geological Survey, Kansas State University, Michigan State University, Penn State University, the University of Minnesota-Duluth, the University of Washington, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Researchers modeled anticipated changes in fish habitat using downscaled global climate change models to predict alterations of water temperature, hydrology, and land-use under different possible scenarios. This project worked closely with the existing partnership-driven National Fish Habitat Action Plan (NFHAP) to link global climate change models and predicted land-use changes to the Nation’s aquatic habitats. The effects of climate change on fish and fish habitat was conducted at three spatial scales. First, a coarse-scale nationwide assessment of how habitat will change with climate was conducted. Second, we used data specific to selected U.S. regions to refine our predicted changes in fish habitat among varying climate and land-use patterns in the Desert Southwest, the Rocky Mountain West, the Northern Glacial Lakes, and the Northeast U.S., and different aquatic systems such as warmwater rivers, glacial lakes, and coldwater streams. Finally, we also determined how selected fish distributions may change with altered climate. For example, the coldwater habitat needed for cisco in lakes in the Upper Midwest is diminishing and may affect the distribution of this critical species. We provided state and federal agencies, non-government organizations, and other stakeholders with GIS-based maps at national and regional scales, showing how habitat will change with climate and land-use change, and information on how those changes affect fish populations. A final report synthesizing this large effort was produced and distributed to all interested stakeholders, in addition to peer-reviewed publications for the scientific community. Lastly, the project trained five PhD students and post doctoral researchers so that these students can continue in their professional careers, helping resource managers deal with the effects of climate change. The project leveraged over $1 million in current partnership-driven nationwide and regional fish habitat assessments through the 300-member NFHAP. The results from this study will allow agencies to assess risks and determine how they will manage fish habitat and fish communities in a changing climate.