Publication : Changes in native bull trout and non-native brook trout distributions in the upper Powder River basin after 20 years, relationships to water temperature and implications of climate change

Many bull trout populations have declined from non-native brook trout introductions, habitat changes (e.g. water temperature) and other factors. We systematically sampled the distribution of bull trout and brook trout in the upper Powder River basin in Oregon in the 1990s and resampled it in 2013–2015, examined temperature differences in the habitats of the two species and analysed trends in temperatures in the light of possible increases associated with climate change. The species’ distributions are currently similar to those in the 1990s, except in one stream where bull trout declined. However, bull trout consisting of resident forms remain restricted to a few kilometres of habitat at the upper end of fish distribution. In streams where both species occur, the typical pattern was an intermediate zone of mixed bull trout, brook trout, and hybrids downstream of allopatric bull trout and allopatric brook trout extending farther downstream. Temperature differences between where bull trout and most brook trout occurred were small (0.5–1.0°C August mean). There were no statistical increases in water temperatures in nearby streams since the 1990s and no warming trends in air temperatures for the past 25–60 years. However, peak summer water temperatures are occurring about 3 weeks earlier than 25 years ago. Future effects of climate change, including possible increases in temperature, changes in timing and other factors (e.g. snowpack, flow and extreme events) remain a concern for the persistence of these populations. However, it is difficult to precisely predict where those changes will occur and what they will be.

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