Steelhead vulnerability to climate change in the Pacific Northwest

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Journal of Applied Ecology

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  1. Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and other Pacific salmon are threatened by unsustainable levels of harvest, genetic introgression from hatchery stocks and degradation or loss of freshwater habitat. Projected climate change is expected to further stress salmon through increases in stream temperatures and altered stream flows.
  2. We demonstrate a spatially explicit method for assessing salmon vulnerability to projected climatic changes (scenario for the years 2030–2059), applied here to steelhead salmon across the entire Pacific Northwest (PNW). We considered steelhead exposure to increased temperatures and more extreme high and low flows during four of their primary freshwater life stages: adult migration, spawning, incubation and rearing. Steelhead sensitivity to climate change was estimated on the basis of their regulatory status and the condition of their habitat. We assessed combinations of exposure and sensitivity to suggest actions that may be most effective for reducing steelhead vulnerability to climate change.
  3. Our relative ranking of locations suggested that steelhead exposure to increases in temperature will be most widespread in the southern Pacific Northwest, whereas exposure to substantial flow changes will be most widespread in the interior and northern Pacific Northwest. There were few locations where we projected that steelhead had both relatively low exposure and sensitivity to climate change.
  4. Synthesis and applications. There are few areas where habitat protection alone is likely to be sufficient to conserve steelhead under the scenario of climate change considered here. Instead, our results suggest the need for coordinated, landscape-scale actions that both increase salmon resilience and ameliorate climate change impacts, such as restoring connectivity of floodplains and high-elevation habitats.


adaptation measures, adaptive management, climate change vulnerability, exposure, Oncorhynchus mykiss, Pacific salmon, risk assessment, sensitivity




© 2013 The Authors. Journal of Applied Ecology © 2013 British Ecological Society

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