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Linking habitat quality with trophic performance of steelhead along forest gradients in the South Fork Trinity River Watershed, California

January 1, 2009

We examined invertebrate prey, fish diet, and energy assimilation in relation to habitat variation for steelhead Oncorhynchus mykiss (anadromous rainbow trout) and rainbow trout in nine low-order tributaries of the South Fork Trinity River, northern California. These streams spanned a range of environmental conditions, which allowed us to use bioenergetics modeling to determine the relative effects of forest cover, stream temperature, season, and fish age on food consumption and growth efficiency. Evidence of seasonal shifts in reliance on aquatic versus terrestrial food sources was detected among forest cover categories and fish ages, although these categories were not robust indicators of O. mykiss condition and growth efficiency. Consumption estimates were generally less than 20% of maximum consumption, and fish lost weight in some streams during summer low-flow conditions when stream temperatures exceeded 15°C. Current 100-year climate change projections for California threaten to exacerbate negative growth patterns and may undermine the productivity of this steelhead population, which is currently not listed as endangered or threatened. To demonstrate the potential effect of global warming on fish growth, we ran three climate change scenarios in two representative streams. Simulated temperature increases ranging from 1.4°C to 5.5°C during the summer and from 1.5°C to 2.9C during the winter amplified the weight loss; estimated average growth for age-1 fish was 0.4–4.5 times lower than normal (low to high estimated temperature increase) in the warm stream and 0.05–0.8 times lower in the cool stream. We conclude that feeding rate and temperature during the summer currently limit the growth and productivity of steelhead and rainbow trout in low-order streams in the South Fork Trinity River basin and predict that climate change will have detrimental effects on steelhead growth as well as on macroinvertebrate communities and stream ecosystems in general.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2009
Title Linking habitat quality with trophic performance of steelhead along forest gradients in the South Fork Trinity River Watershed, California
DOI 10.1577/T08-053.1
Authors Sarah G. McCarthy, Jeffrey J. Duda, John M. Emlen, Garth R. Hodgson, David A. Beauchamp
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Transactions of the American Fisheries Society
Series Number
Index ID 70175486
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Fisheries Research Center