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Brook Trout Movement in Response to Temperature, Flow, and Thermal Refugia within a Complex Appalachian Riverscape

We quantified movements of brook trout Salvelinus fontinalis and brown trout Salmo trutta in a complex riverscape characterized by a large, open-canopy main stem and a small, closed-canopy tributary in easternWest Virginia, USA. Our objectives were to quantify the overall rate of trout movement and relate movement behaviors to variation in streamflow, water temperature, and access to coldwater refugia. The study area experienced extremely high seasonal, yearly, and among-stream variability in water temperature and flow. The relative mobility of brook trout within the upper Shavers Fork watershed varied significantly depending on whether individuals resided within the larger main stem or the smaller tributary. The movement rate of trout inhabiting the main stem during summer months (50 m/d) was an order of magnitude higher than that of tributary fish (2 m/d). Movement rates of main-stem-resident brook trout during summer were correlated with the maximum water temperature experienced by the fish and with the fish’s initial distance from a known coldwater source. For main-stem trout, use of microhabitats closer to cover was higher during extremely warm periods than during cooler periods; use of microhabitats closer to cover during warm periods was also greater for main-stem trout than for tributary inhabitants. Main-stem-resident trout were never observed in water exceeding 19.5◦C. Our study provides some of the first data on brook trout movements in a large Appalachian river system and underscores the importance of managing trout fisheries in a riverscape context. Brook trout conservation in this region will depend on restoration and protection of coldwater refugia in larger river main stems as well as removal of barriers to trout movement near tributary and main-stem confluences.

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