Robust estimates of environmental effects on population vital rates: An integrated capture-recapture model of seasonal brook trout growth, survival and movement in a stream network

Benjamin H. Letcher, Paul Schueller, Ronald D. Bassar, Keith H. Nislow, Jason A. Coombs, Krzysztof Sakrejda, Michael Morrissey, Douglas B. Sigourney, Andrew R. Whiteley, Matthew J. O'Donnell, Todd L. Dubreuil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Modelling the effects of environmental change on populations is a key challenge for ecologists, particularly as the pace of change increases. Currently, modelling efforts are limited by difficulties in establishing robust relationships between environmental drivers and population responses. We developed an integrated capture-recapture state-space model to estimate the effects of two key environmental drivers (stream flow and temperature) on demographic rates (body growth, movement and survival) using a long-term (11 years), high-resolution (individually tagged, sampled seasonally) data set of brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) from four sites in a stream network. Our integrated model provides an effective context within which to estimate environmental driver effects because it takes full advantage of data by estimating (latent) state values for missing observations, because it propagates uncertainty among model components and because it accounts for the major demographic rates and interactions that contribute to annual survival. We found that stream flow and temperature had strong effects on brook trout demography. Some effects, such as reduction in survival associated with low stream flow and high temperature during the summer season, were consistent across sites and age classes, suggesting that they may serve as robust indicators of vulnerability to environmental change. Other survival effects varied across ages, sites and seasons, indicating that flow and temperature may not be the primary drivers of survival in those cases. Flow and temperature also affected body growth rates; these responses were consistent across sites but differed dramatically between age classes and seasons. Finally, we found that tributary and mainstem sites responded differently to variation in flow and temperature. Annual survival (combination of survival and body growth across seasons) was insensitive to body growth and was most sensitive to flow (positive) and temperature (negative) in the summer and fall. These observations, combined with our ability to estimate the occurrence, magnitude and direction of fish movement between these habitat types, indicated that heterogeneity in response may provide a mechanism providing potential resilience to environmental change. Given that the challenges we faced in our study are likely to be common to many intensive data sets, the integrated modelling approach could be generally applicable and useful.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-352
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015


  • Annual survival
  • Bayesian modelling
  • Capture-mark-recapture
  • Integrated model
  • Movement
  • Sensitivity
  • Stream fish
  • Stream network
  • Survival


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