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Strong variation in Brook Trout trends across geology, elevation, and stream size in Shenandoah National Park

February 22, 2024


Landscape context structures fish abundance and dynamics, and understanding trends in fish abundance across the landscape is often prerequisite for effective conservation. In this study, we evaluated the status and trends of Brook Trout Salvelinus fontinalis in Shenandoah National Park to understand how these are structured across bedrock geology, elevation, and stream size.


We used long-term monitoring data from 94 sites in Shenandoah National Park to evaluate trends in Brook Trout abundance over a 27-year period (1996–2022) and assess the importance of local environmental covariates using a hierarchical Bayesian N-mixture model based on depletion sampling. Focal covariates were chosen for their demonstrated importance in structuring fish populations in Shenandoah National Park and elsewhere. Bedrock geology controls sensitivity to acid deposition, watershed area is related to stream habitat features such as complexity and flow variability, and elevation creates gradients in temperature.


Models revealed significant decreases in adult Brook Trout abundance over time (95% credible intervals < 0) for 31 of 94 sites (33%), and at least three sites exhibited apparent extirpations over the study period. Estimated Brook Trout abundance declined by 50% or more in approximately 70% of streams across the park over the study period. Sites with the warmest water temperatures exhibited the fastest declines in abundance. However, large watersheds on poorly buffered bedrock exhibited significant gains in abundance over time, suggesting some recovery from acid deposition due to improvements in air quality.


Our analysis revealed large and divergent changes in Brook Trout abundance over recent decades and suggests the importance of local water temperature and acid sensitivity as probable causal mechanisms. These results highlight the importance of considering local factors when evaluating long-term trends in stream fish populations. Results of this study can assist the development of targeted conservation actions within Shenandoah National Park and elsewhere.

Publication Year 2024
Title Strong variation in Brook Trout trends across geology, elevation, and stream size in Shenandoah National Park
DOI 10.1002/tafs.10460
Authors Evan S. Childress, David E Demarest, John E.B. Wofford, Nathaniel P. Hitt, Benjamin Letcher
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Transactions of the American Fisheries Society
Index ID 70251987
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Eastern Ecological Science Center