Influences of wildfire and channel reorganization on spatial and temporal variation in stream temperature and the distribution of fish and amphibians

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Abstract

Wildfire can influence a variety of stream ecosystem properties. We studied stream temperatures in relation to wildfire in small streams in the Boise River Basin, located in central Idaho, USA. To examine the spatio-temporal aspects of temperature in relation to wildfire, we employed three approaches: a pre-post fire comparison of temperatures between two sites (one from a burned stream and one unburned) over 13 years, a short-term (3 year) pre-post fire comparison of a burned and unburned stream with spatially extensive data, and a short-term (1 year) comparative study of spatial variability in temperatures using a "space for time" substitutive design across 90 sites in nine streams (retrospective comparative study). The latter design included streams with a history of stand-replacing wildfire and streams with severe post-fire reorganization of channels due to debris flows and flooding. Results from these three studies indicated that summer maximum water temperatures can remain significantly elevated for at least a decade following wildfire, particularly in streams with severe channel reorganization. In the retrospective comparative study we investigated occurrence of native rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and tailed frog larvae (Ascaphus montanus) in relation to maximum stream temperatures during summer. Both occurred in nearly every site sampled, but tailed frog larvae were found in much warmer water than previously reported in the field (26.6°C maximum summer temperature). Our results show that physical stream habitats can remain altered (for example, increased temperature) for many years following wildfire, but that native aquatic vertebrates can be resilient. In a management context, this suggests wildfire may be less of a threat to native species than human influences that alter the capacity of stream-living vertebrates to persist in the face of natural disturbance. © 2007 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.

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Dunham, J. B., Rosenberger, A. E., Luce, C. H., & Rieman, B. E. (2007). Influences of wildfire and channel reorganization on spatial and temporal variation in stream temperature and the distribution of fish and amphibians. Ecosystems, 10(2), 335–346. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-007-9029-8

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