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
I am also in the process of completing fieldwork to determine the temperatures at which many nongame prairie fish species (e.g. Northern Redbelly Dace, Flathead Chubs, Stonecats, etc) are most abundant. This data will be used to estimate the tolerances of each of these species to stream warming.
Dan Isaak (USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station – Boise) and Mike Young (USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station – Missoula).