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Sensitivity and Vulnerability of Brook Trout Populations to Climate Change

Predicting future brook trout Salvelinus fontinalis distributions at the population scale under various climate scenarios is of interest to the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture. Previous larger scale models have been useful in highlighting the potential threat; however, the predicted air and water temperature errors associated with these models makes predictions of the persistence of individual brook trout populations problematic. We directly measured paired air and water temperatures in watersheds (N = 77) containing reproducing populations of brook trout in Virginia. We found that paired air and water temperature relationships are highly variable among patches but are a useful dataset to classify sensitivity and vulnerability of existing brook trout patches. We developed a classification system using sensitivity and vulnerability metrics that classified sampled brook trout habitats into four categories (High Sensitivity- High Vulnerability (51.9% ); High Sensitivity-Low Vulnerability (10.4 % ); Low Sensitivity-High Vulnerability (7.8 % ); Low Sensitivity-Low Vulnerability (29.9 % ). Our direct measurement approach identified potential refugia for brook trout at lower elevations and with higher air temperatures than previous larger scale modeling efforts. Our sensitivity and vulnerability groupings should be useful for managers making investment decisions in protecting and restoring brook trout.

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