Bull Trout climate refuge map. Credit: Dan Isaak, USFS

We’re diving head-first into the terrible uncontrolled experiment that is climate change. For fish and wildlife that are particularly sensitive to changing temperatures, this means their ranges will shift or contract. I am using future projections for Montana streams to determine where temperatures will be suitable for aquatic species to survive. These areas are known as “refugia.” While such work has been completed for several species of trout, others such as nongame critters (e.g. sculpin, dace, tadpoles, aq. insects, etc.) suffer from a lack of information. I am using the best available data, supplemented with my own fieldwork, to make sure all aquatic species (including wildlife) are accounted for. There are a lot of moving parts to Project Refugia: temperature projections, species distributions, species thermal requirements, etc. Putting all of those pieces together will take time and is easier for some species and places than others. But, once climate refugia have been located, additional information such as land ownership and barrier locations can be used to help prioritize which areas and species should be the focus of conservation & restoration actions. I hope that will lead to far more inclusion of multiple species into restoration projects.

PROJECT REFUGIA initiatives:

Eastern Montana Stream Temperature Regression (EMonSTeR)

Unfortunately, stream temperature projections are not available for much of central and eastern Montana. With Dan Isaak of the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station, I have initiated the EMonSTeR project to develop current and future stream temperature maps for all of Montana east of the continental divide. This will make it possible to determine climate refugia for cool- and warmwater species– groups not usually considered when thinking about vulnerability to increasing temperatures.

Torrent & Cedar Sculpin eDNA & Temperature Tolerance

An additional aspect of this project includes working with Mike Young of the National Genomics Center for Fish & Wildlife Conservation to develop eDNA tests to assess presence of Torrent Sculpin and Cedar Sculpin. I will use these tests in the field to help determine the temperature tolerances of these understudied species.

Prairie Fish Temperature Tolerances & Distributions

I am also in the process of completing fieldwork and reviewing reports to determine the temperature tolerances of many nongame prairie fish species (e.g. Northern Redbelly Dace, Flathead Chubs, Stonecats, etc) and to refine their distributions. Distributional refinement in the Powder River basin is the subject of a side project being led by Jon McFarland in collaboration with Annika Walters (University of Wyoming).

Reports & Publications

Clancy, N.G., A. W. Walters, and D.J. Isaak. In prep. Climate refugia for game and nongame fishes across a large mountain-prairie region, Montana-Wyoming. For submission to Global Change Biology.

McFarland, J.A., M.G. Ahern, N.G. Clancy, and A.W. Walters. In prep. Fish assemblage changes in the Powder River basin, Montana-Wyoming. For submission to Transactions of the American Fisheries Society.

Project Partners

Project Funders

National Science Foundation; U.S. Forest Service; Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.