Combining demographic and genetic factors to assess population vulnerability in stream species

E. L. Landguth, C. C. Muhlfeld, R. S. Waples, L. Jones, W. H. Lowe, D. Whited, J. Lucotch, H. Neville, G. Luikart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Accelerating climate change and other cumulative stressors create an urgent need to understand the influence of environmental variation and landscape features on the connectivity and vulnerability of freshwater species. Here, we introduce a novel modeling framework for aquatic systems that integrates spatially explicit, individual-based, demographic and genetic (demogenetic) assessments with environmental variables. To show its potential utility, we simulated a hypothetical network of 19 migratory riverine populations (e.g., salmonids) using a riverscape connectivity and demogenetic model (CDFISH). We assessed how stream resistance to movement (a function of water temperature, fluvial distance, and physical barriers) might influence demogenetic connectivity, and hence, population vulnerability. We present demographic metrics (abundance, immigration, and change in abundance) and genetic metrics (diversity, differentiation, and change in differentiation), and combine them into a single vulnerability index for identifying populations at risk of extirpation. We considered four realistic scenarios that illustrate the relative sensitivity of these metrics for early detection of reduced connectivity:. 1) maximum resistance due to high water temperatures throughout the network,. 2. minimum resistance due to low water temperatures throughout the network, (3. increased resistance at a tributary junction caused by a partial barrier, and (4. complete isolation of a tributary, leaving resident individuals only. We then applied this demogenetic framework using empirical data for a bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) metapopulation in the upper Flathead River system, Canada and USA, to assess how current and predicted future stream warming may influence population vulnerability. Results suggest that warmer water temperatures and associated barriers to movement (e.g., low flows, dewatering) are predicted to fragment suitable habitat for migratory salmonids, resulting in the loss of genetic diversity and reduced numbers in certain vulnerable populations. This demogenetic simulation framework, which is illustrated in a web-based interactive mapping prototype, should be useful for evaluating population vulnerability in a wide variety of dendritic and fragmented riverscapes, helping to guide conservation and management efforts for freshwater species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1505-1524
Number of pages20
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 1 2014


  • Connectivity
  • Dispersal
  • Gene flow
  • Genetic differentiation
  • Genetic diversity
  • Landscape genetics
  • Population viability
  • Risk maps
  • Salvelinus confluentus
  • Stream barrier
  • Stream networks
  • Vulnerability assessments


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