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Shrinking body size and climate warming: Many freshwater salmonids do not follow the rule

February 3, 2023

Declining body size is believed to be a universal response to climate warming and has been documented in numerous studies of marine and anadromous fishes. The Salmonidae are a family of coldwater fishes considered to be among the most sensitive species to climate warming; however, whether the shrinking body size response holds true for freshwater salmonids has yet to be examined at a broad spatial scale. We compiled observations of individual fish lengths from long-term surveys across the Northern Hemisphere for 12 species of freshwater salmonids and used linear mixed models to test for spatial and temporal trends in body size (fish length) spanning recent decades. Contrary to expectations, we found a significant increase in length overall but with high variability in trends among populations and species. More than two-thirds of the populations we examined increased in length over time. Secondary regressions revealed larger-bodied populations are experiencing greater increases in length than smaller-bodied populations. Mean water temperature was weakly predictive of changes in body length but overall minimal influences of environmental variables suggest that it is difficult to predict an organism's response to changing temperatures by solely looking at climatic factors. Our results suggest that declining body size is not universal, and the response of fishes to climate change may be largely influenced by local factors. It is important to know that we cannot assume the effects of climate change are predictable and negative at a large spatial scale.

Publication Year 2023
Title Shrinking body size and climate warming: Many freshwater salmonids do not follow the rule
DOI 10.1111/gcb.16626
Authors Mary Solakas, Zachary S. Feiner, Robert Al-Chokhachy, Phaedra E. Budy, Tyrell DeWeber, Jouko Sarvala, Greg G. Sass, Scott A. Tolentino, Timothy E. Walsworth, Olaf P. Jensen
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Global Change Biology
Index ID 70241013
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center