Landscape resistance mediates native fish species distribution shifts and vulnerability to climate change in riverscapes

Michael T. LeMoine, Lisa A. Eby, Chris G. Clancy, Leslie G. Nyce, Michael J. Jakober, Dan J. Isaak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


A broader understanding of how landscape resistance influences climate change vulnerability for many species is needed, as is an understanding of how barriers to dispersal may impact vulnerability. Freshwater biodiversity is at particular risk, but previous studies have focused on popular cold-water fishes (e.g., salmon, trout, and char) with relatively large body sizes and mobility. Those fishes may be able to track habitat change more adeptly than less mobile species. Smaller, less mobile fishes are rarely represented in studies demonstrating effects of climate change, but depending on their thermal tolerance, they may be particularly vulnerable to environmental change. By revisiting 280 sites over a 20 year interval throughout a warming riverscape, we described changes in occupancy (i.e., site extirpation and colonization probabilities) and assessed the environmental conditions associated with those changes for four fishes spanning a range of body sizes, thermal and habitat preferences. Two larger-bodied trout species exhibited small changes in site occupancy, with bull trout experiencing a 9.2% (95% CI = 8.3%–10.1%) reduction, mostly in warmer stream reaches, and westslope cutthroat trout experiencing a nonsignificant 1% increase. The small-bodied cool water slimy sculpin was originally distributed broadly throughout the network and experienced a 48.0% (95% CI = 42.0%–54.0%) reduction in site occupancy with declines common in warmer stream reaches and areas subject to wildfire disturbances. The small-bodied comparatively warmer water longnose dace primarily occupied larger streams and increased its occurrence in the lower portions of connected tributaries during the study period. Distribution shifts for sculpin and dace were significantly constrained by barriers, which included anthropogenic water diversions, natural step-pools and cascades in steeper upstream reaches. Our results suggest that aquatic communities exhibit a range of responses to climate change, and that improving passage and fluvial connectivity will be important climate adaptation tactics for conserving aquatic biodiversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5492-5508
Number of pages17
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020


  • barriers
  • climate change
  • fish
  • mobility
  • stream warming
  • temperature


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