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. Once climate refugia have been located, additional information such as land ownership and barrier locations, will help prioritize which areas and species should be the focus of conservation & restoration actions.

Eastern Montana Stream Temperature Regression (EMonSTeR)

Unfortunately, stream temperature projects 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.

Stillwater-Whitefish Basin Restoration Assessment

Lastly, with Sam Bourret (MFWP) and Beth Gardner (USFS), I am writing an aquatic restoration plan for the Stillwater-Whitefish basin of northwestern Montana. In this plan, we will assess streams as potential climate refugia for Westslope Cutthroat Trout, Bull Trout, Columbia Slimy Sculpin, and other coldwater fishes. Improvement of refugia streams will include removal and blockage of invasive species, translocation of game and nongame species, stream restoration using process-based techniques, and thermal vulnerability assessments for frogs, toads, & turtles.

Project Partners

Dan Isaak (USFS)
Mike Young (USFS)
Sam Bourret (MFWP)
Beth Gardner (USFS)

Project Funders

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

Torrent Sculpin from the Kootenai River basin