The Past as Prelude to the Future for Understanding 21st-Century Climate Effects on Rocky Mountain Trout

Daniel J. Isaak, Clint C. Muhlfeld, Andrew S. Todd, Robert Al-Chokhachy, James Roberts, Jeffrey L. Kershner, Kurt D. Fausch, Steven W. Hostetler
Posted on: 7/18/2022 - Updated on: 6/19/2023

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Bioclimatic models predict large reductions in native trout across the Rocky Mountains in the 21st century but lack details about how changes will occur. Through five case histories across the region, we explore how a changing climate has been affecting streams and the potential consequences for trout. Monitoring records show trends in temperature and hydrographs consistent with a warming climate in recent decades. Biological implications include upstream shifts in thermal habitats, risk of egg scour, increased wildfire disturbances, and declining summer habitat volumes. The importance of these factors depends on the context, but temperature increases are most relevant where population boundaries are mediated by thermal constraints. Summer flow declines and wildfires will be important where trout populations are fragmented and constrained to small refugia. A critical information gap is evidence documenting how populations are adjusting to long-term habitat trends, so biological monitoring is a priority. Biological, temperature, and discharge data from monitoring networks could be used to develop accurate vulnerability assessments that provide information regarding where conservation actions would best improve population resilience. Even with better information, future uncertainties will remain large due to unknowns regarding Earth's ultimate warming trajectory and how effects translate across scales. Maintaining or increasing the size of habitats could provide a buffer against these uncertainties.


Isaak, D.J., Muhlfeld, C.C., Todd, A.S.; Al-Chokhachy, R., Roberts, J., Kershner, J.L., Fausch, K.D., Hostetler, S.W. (2012). The past as prelude to the future for understanding 21st-Century climate effects on Rocky Mountain trout. Fisheries, 37 (12): 542-556.

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