Assessing climate change impacts on Pacific salmon and trout using bioenergetics and spatiotemporal explicit river temperature predictions under varying riparian conditions
Pacific salmon and trout populations are affected by timber harvest, the removal and alteration of riparian vegetation, and the resulting physical changes to water quality, temperature, and associated delivery of high-quality terrestrial prey. Juvenile salmon and trout growth, a key predictor of survival, is poorly understood in the context of current and future (climate-change mediated) conditions, with resource managers needing information on how land use will impact future river conditions for these commercially and culturally important species. We used the Heat Source water temperature modeling framework to develop a spatiotemporal model to assess how riparian canopy and vegetation preservation and addition could influence river temperatures under future climate predictions in a coastal river fed by a moraine-dammed lake: the Quinault River in Washington State. The model predicted higher water temperatures under future carbon emission projections, representative concentration pathway (RCP) 4.5 and 8.5, with varying magnitude based on different riparian vegetation scenarios. We used the daily average temperature output from these scenarios to predict potential juvenile fish growth using the Wisconsin bioenergetics model. A combination of riparian vegetation removal and continued high carbon emissions resulted in a predicted seven-day average daily maximum temperature (7DADM) increase of 1.7°C in the lower river by 2080; increases in riparian shading mitigate this 7DADM increase to only 0.9°C. Under the current thermal regime, bioenergetics modeling predicts juvenile fish lose weight in the lower river; this loss of potential growth worsens by an average of 20–83% in the lower river by 2080, increasing with the loss of riparian shading. This study assess the impact of riparian vegetation management on future thermal habitat for Pacific salmon and trout under warming climates and provide a useful spatially explicit modeling framework that managers can use to make decisions regarding riparian vegetation management and its mechanistic impact to water temperature and rearing juvenile fish.