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Hydroclimatic conditions, wildfire, and species assemblages influence co-occurrence of bull trout and tailed frogs in northern Rocky Mountain streams

April 5, 2022

Although bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) and tailed frogs (Ascaphus montanus) have co-existed in forested Pacific Northwest streams for millennia, these iconic cold-water specialists are experiencing rapid environmental change caused by a warming climate and enhanced wildfire activity. Our goal was to inform future conservation by examining the habitat associations of each species and conditions that facilitate co-occupancy. We repurposed data from previous studies in the northern Rocky Mountains to assess the efficacy of bull trout electrofishing surveys for determining the occurrence of tailed frogs and the predictive capacity of habitat covariates derived from in-stream measurements and geospatial sources to model distributions of both species. Electrofishing reliably detected frog presence (89.2% rate). Both species were strongly associated with stream temperature and flow regime characteristics, and less responsive to riparian canopy cover, slope, and other salmonids. Tailed frogs were also sensitive to wildfire, with occupancy probability peaking around 80 years after a fire. Co-occupancy was most probable in locations with low-to-moderate frequencies of high winter flow events, few other salmonids, a low base-flow index, and intermediate years since fire. The distributions of these species appear to be sensitive to environmental conditions that are changing this century in forests of the northern Rocky Mountains. The amplification of climate-driven effects after wildfire may prove to be particularly problematic in the future. Habitat differences between these two species, considered to be headwater specialists, suggest that conservation measures designed for one may not fully protect the other. Additional studies involving future climate and wildfire scenarios are needed to assess broader conservation strategies and the potential to identify refuge streams where both species are likely to persist, or complementary streams where each could exist separately into the future.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Hydroclimatic conditions, wildfire, and species assemblages influence co-occurrence of bull trout and tailed frogs in northern Rocky Mountain streams
DOI 10.3390/w14071162
Authors David Pilliod, Robert Arkle, Russel F Thurow, Dan J Isaak
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Water
Index ID 70230269
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center