Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Forestry practices and aquatic biodiversity: Fish

January 1, 2005

In the Pacific Northwest, fish communities are found in a diverse array of aquatic habitats ranging from the large coastal rivers of the temperate rainforests, to the fragmented and sometimes ephemeral streams of the xeric interior basins, and high-elevation streams and lakes in the mountainous areas (Rieman et al. 2003). Only high-elevation lakes and streams isolated above barriers to fish passage remained historically devoid of fish because they were never invaded following Pleistocene glaciation (Smith 1981). Despite this widespread distribution and once great population abundances, taxonomic diversity of fishes in these forested systems is naturally lower than in aquatic habitats in the eastern U.S. (Reeves, Bisson, and Dambacher 1998).
Interactions among factors that influence species richness in aquatic systems (e.g., basin size, long-term stability of habitat, and barriers to colonization; Smith 1981) continue to influence the occurrence and persistence of fishes in these systems today. Consequently, the larger low-elevation rivers and estuaries support the greatest variety of fish species. In the high-elevation tributary streams, fish communities are less complex because these aquatic systems were less climatically and geologically stable, and fish populations were smaller and more prone to local extirpation. Furthermore, barriers to fish passage inhibited dispersal and colonization (Smith 1981). Streams in forested landscapes generally support salmon and trout, Oncorhynchus spp., whitefish Prosopium spp., sculpins Cottus spp., suckers Catostomus spp., and minnows (Cyprinidae), but in some of the colder streams, chars (e.g., Salvelinus confluentus and Salvelinus malma) and lampreys (Petromyzontidae)may also occur (Rieman et al. 2003).
Although biodiversity defined in terms of fish species richness is low in the Pacific Northwest, intraspecific variability is high, and polytypic fish species are common in the diverse aquatic habitats of the region. For example, the salmonids in the coastal rivers and streams, and the larger interconnected streams, rivers, and lakes of the interior exhibit a variety of ecotypes and migratory life histories (Healey 1986; Trotter 1989; Larson and McIntire 1993; Northcote 1997). This life-history variation appears to be associated with adaptation to spatial and temporal variation in environment (e.g., Schaffer and Elson 1975; Carl and Healey 1984; Beacham and Murray 1987), and there is some evidence of the genetic heritability of life-history traits (Carl and Healey 1984; Gharrett and Smoker 1993; Hankin, Nicholas, and Downey 1993). Persistence of any level of biological organization (e.g., life-history type, population, metapopulation, subspecies, species, community) is related to the interaction of environmental and biological components, and intraspecific diversity is a means of spreading risk (sensu den Boer 1968) of extirpation in dynamic environments (Gresswell 1999).
Unfortunately, despite the broad distribution and extensive intraspecific diversity, persistence of native fishes is uncertain in the Pacific Northwest. Many populations of anadromous salmonids, once synonymous with vigorous biological communities throughout the region, are threatened with extinction (Nehlsen, Williams, and Lichatowich 1991; Frissell 1993; Thurow, Lee, and Rieman 1997). Furthermore, over half of the native taxa in the Columbia River Basin are either listed under the Endangered Species Act, are being considered for listing, or are deemed sensitive by the management agencies (Lee et al. 1997; Thurow, Lee, and Rieman 1997). Potamodromous species like bull trout Salvelinus confluentus are estimated to occur as strong populations in less than 5% of their potential range (Rieman, Lee, and Thurow 1997). Although not currently listed under the endangered species list, the coastal cutthroat trout Oncorhynchus clarki is managed as a sensitive species in Oregon and California (Hall, Bisson, and Gresswell 1997). Native non-game fishes have rarely been monitored, but populations of species such as large-scale suckers (Catostomus macrocheilus), squawfish (Ptychocheilus umpquae), and Pacific lamprey (Lampetra tridentata) also are declining in some drainages (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, unpublished data).

Publication Year 2005
Title Forestry practices and aquatic biodiversity: Fish
Authors Robert E. Gresswell
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Organization Series
Series Title Technical Bulletin
Series Number 908
Index ID 70160107
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center