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Predicting persistence of Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout populations in an uncertain future

August 15, 2019

The Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout Oncorhynchus clarkii virginalis (RGCT ) occupies just 12% of its ancestral range. As the southernmost subspecies of Cutthroat Trout, we expect a warming climate to bring additional stressors to RGCT populations, such as increased stream temperatures, reduced streamflows, and increased incidence of wildfire. We developed a Bayesian network (BN ) model using site‐specific data, empirical research, and expert knowledge to estimate the probability of persistence for each of the 121 remaining RGCT conservation populations and to rank the severity of the threats they face. These inputs quantified the genetic risks (e.g., inbreeding risk and hybridization risk), population demographics (disease risk, habitat suitability, and survival), and probability of stochastic disturbances (stream drying risk and wildfire risk) in an uncertain future. We also created stream temperature and base flow discharge models coupled with regionally downscaled climate projections to predict future abiotic conditions at short‐term (2040s) and long‐term (2080s) time horizons. In the absence of active management, we predicted a decrease in the average probability of population persistence from 0.53 (current) to 0.31 (2040s) and 0.26 (2080s). Only 11% of these populations were predicted to have a greater than 75% chance of persisting to the 2080s. Threat of invasion by nonnative trout had the strongest effect on population persistence. Of the 78 populations that are already invaded or lacking complete barriers, 60% were estimated to be extirpated by 2080 and the remainder averaged only a 10% chance of persistence. In contrast, the effects of increased stream temperatures were predicted to affect the future persistence of only 9% of the 121 RGCT populations remaining, as most have been restricted to high‐elevation habitats that are cold enough to buffer against some stream warming. Our BN model provides a framework for evaluating threats and will be useful to guide management actions that are likely to provide the most benefit for long‐term conservation.

Publication Year 2019
Title Predicting persistence of Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout populations in an uncertain future
DOI 10.1002/nafm.10320
Authors Mathew P. Zeigler, Kevin B. Rogers, James Roberts, Andrew Todd, Kurt D. Fausch
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title North American Journal of Fisheries Management
Index ID 70211576
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center