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Many freshwater fish species are considered vulnerable to stream temperature warming associated with climate change because they are ectothermic, yet there are surprisingly few studies documenting changes in distributions. Streams and rivers in the U.S. Rocky Mountains have been warming for several decades. At the same time these systems have been experiencing an increase in the severity and frequency of wildfires, which often results in habitat changes including increased water temperatures. We resampled 74 sites across a Rocky Mountain watershed 17 to 20 years after initial samples to determine whether there were trends in bull trout occurrence associated with temperature, wildfire, or other habitat variables. We found that site abandonment probabilities (0.36) were significantly higher than colonization probabilities (0.13), which indicated a reduction in the number of occupied sites. Site abandonment probabilities were greater at low elevations with warm temperatures. Other covariates, such as the presence of wildfire, nonnative brook trout, proximity to areas with many adults, and various stream habitat descriptors, were not associated with changes in probability of occupancy. Higher abandonment probabilities at low elevation for bull trout provide initial evidence validating the predictions made by bioclimatic models that bull trout populations will retreat to higher, cooler thermal refuges as water temperatures increase. The geographic breadth of these declines across the region is unknown but the approach of revisiting historical sites using an occupancy framework provides a useful template for additional assessments.
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Eby LA, Helmy O, Holsinger LM, Young MK (2014) Evidence of Climate-Induced Range Contractions in Bull Trout Salvelinus confluentus in a Rocky Mountain Watershed, U.S.A.. PLoS ONE 9(6): e98812. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0098812