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Thermal regimes, nonnative trout, and their influences on native Bull Trout in the Upper Klamath River Basin, Oregon

October 12, 2016

The occurrence of fish species may be strongly influenced by a stream’s thermal regime (magnitude, frequency, variation, and timing). For instance, magnitude and frequency provide information about sublethal temperatures, variability in temperature can affect behavioral thermoregulation and bioenergetics, and timing of thermal events may cue life history events, such as spawning and migration. We explored the relationship between thermal regimes and the occurrences of native Bull Trout Salvelinus confluentus and nonnative Brook Trout Salvelinus fontinalis and Brown Trout Salmo trutta across 87 sites in the upper Klamath River basin, Oregon. Our objectives were to associate descriptors of the thermal regime with trout occurrence, predict the probability of Bull Trout occurrence, and estimate upper thermal tolerances of the trout species. We found that each species was associated with a different suite of thermal regime descriptors. Bull Trout were present at sites that were cooler, had fewer high-temperature events, had less variability, and took longer to warm. Brook Trout were also observed at cooler sites with fewer high-temperature events, but the sites were more variable and Brook Trout occurrence was not associated with a timing descriptor. In contrast, Brown Trout were present at sites that were warmer and reached higher temperatures faster, but they were not associated with frequency or variability descriptors. Among the descriptors considered, magnitude (specifically June degree-days) was the most important in predicting the probability of Bull Trout occurrence, and model predictions were strengthened by including Brook Trout occurrence. Last, all three trout species exhibited contrasting patterns of tolerating longer exposures to lower temperatures. Tolerance limits for Bull Trout were lower than those for Brook Trout and Brown Trout, with contrasts especially evident for thermal maxima. Our results confirm the value of exploring a suite of thermal regime descriptors for understanding the distribution and occurrence of fishes. Moreover, these descriptors and their relationships to fish should be considered with future changes in land use, water use, or climate.