Influence of water temperature and biotic interactions on the distribution of westslope cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkia lewisi) in a population stronghold under climate change

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Abstract

Climate warming is expected to have substantial impacts on native trout across the Rocky Mountains, but there is little understanding of how these changes affect future distributions of co-occurring native fishes within population strongholds. We used mixed-effects logistic regression to investigate the role of abiotic (e.g., temperature) and biotic factors (bull trout presence, Salvelinus confluentus) on distributions of westslope cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi; WCT) in the North Fork Flathead River, USA and Canada. The probability of WCT presence increased with stream temperature and decreased with channel gradient and bull trout presence, yet the effect of bull trout was reduced with increasing pool densities. Combining this model with spatially explicit stream temperature projections, we predict a 29% increase in suitable habitat under high emissions through 2075, with gains at mid-elevation sites predicted to exceed bull trout thermal tolerances and high-elevation sites expected to become more thermally suitable for WCT. Our study illustrates the importance of considering abiotic and biotic drivers to assess species response to climate change, helping to guide local-scale climate adaptation and management.

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Heinle, K. B., Eby, L. A., Muhlfeld, C. C., Steed, A., Jones, L., D’Angelo, V., … Hebblewhite, M. (2021). Influence of water temperature and biotic interactions on the distribution of westslope cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkia lewisi) in a population stronghold under climate change. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 78(4), 444–456. https://doi.org/10.1139/cjfas-2020-0099

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