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Simulated juvenile salmon growth and phenology respond to altered thermal regimes and stream network shape

December 1, 2017

It is generally accepted that climate change will stress coldwater species such as Pacific salmon. However, it is unclear what aspect of altered thermal regimes (e.g., warmer winters, springs, summers, or increased variability) will have the greatest effect, and what role the spatial properties of river networks play. Thermally diverse habitats may afford protection from climate change by providing opportunities for aquatic organisms to find and use habitats with optimal conditions for growth. We hypothesized that climate‐altered thermal regimes will change growth and timing of life history events such as emergence or migration but that changes will be moderated in topologically complex stream networks where opportunities to thermoregulate are more readily available to mobile animals. Because climate change effects on populations are spatially variable and contingent upon physiological optima, assessments of risk must take a spatially explicit approach. We developed a spatially structured individual‐based model for Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) in which movement decisions and growth were governed by water temperature and conspecific density. We evaluated growth and phenology (timing of egg emergence and smolting) under a variety of thermal regimes (each having a different minimum, rate of warming, maximum, and variability) and in three network shapes of increasing spatial complexity. Across networks, fish generally grew faster and were capable of smolting earlier in warmer scenarios where water temperatures experienced by fish were closer to optimal; however, growth decreased for some fish. We found that salmon size and smolt date responded more strongly to warmer springs and summers than to warmer winters or increased variability. Fish in the least complex network grew faster and were ready to smolt earlier than fish in the more spatially complex network shapes in the contemporary thermal regime; patterns were similar but less clear in warmer thermal regimes. Our results demonstrate that network topology may influence how fish respond to thermal landscapes, and this information will be useful for incorporating a spatiotemporal context into conservation decisions that promote long‐term viability of salmon in a changing climate.

Publication Year 2017
Title Simulated juvenile salmon growth and phenology respond to altered thermal regimes and stream network shape
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.2052
Authors Aimee H. Fullerton, Brian J. Burke, Joshua J. Lawler, Christian E. Torgersen, Joseph L. Ebersole, Scott G. Leibowitz
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecosphere
Index ID 70203222
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center