Forecasted Range Shifts of Arid-land Fishes in Response to Climate Change

James E. Whitney, Joanna B. Whittier, Craig P. Paukert, Julian D. Olden, Angela L. Strecker
Posted on: 7/18/2022 - Updated on: 7/12/2023

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Climate change is poised to alter the distributional limits, center, and size of many species. Traits may influence different aspects of range shifts, with trophic generality facilitating shifts at the leading edge, and greater thermal tolerance limiting contractions at the trailing edge. The generality of relationships between traits and range shifts remains ambiguous however, especially for imperiled fishes residing in xeric riverscapes.

Our objectives were to quantify contemporary fish distributions in the Lower Colorado River Basin, forecast climate change by 2085 using two general circulation models, and quantify shifts in the limits, center, and size of fish elevational ranges according to fish traits. We examined relationships among traits and range shift metrics either singly using univariate linear modeling or combined with multivariate redundancy analysis.

We found that trophic and dispersal traits were associated with shifts at the leading and trailing edges, respectively, although projected range shifts were largely unexplained by traits. As expected, piscivores and omnivores with broader diets shifted upslope most at the leading edge while more specialized invertivores exhibited minimal changes. Fishes that were more mobile shifted upslope most at the trailing edge, defying predictions. No traits explained changes in range center or size. Finally, current preference explained multivariate range shifts, as fishes with faster current preferences exhibited smaller multivariate changes.

Although range shifts were largely unexplained by traits, more specialized invertivorous fishes with lower dispersal propensity or greater current preference may require the greatest conservation efforts because of their limited capacity to shift ranges under climate change.


Whitney, J.E., Whittier, J.B., Paukert, C.P., Olden, J.D., Strecker, A.L. (2017). Forecasted range shifts of arid-land fishes in response to climate change. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries, 27: 463–479.

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