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The influence of land cover composition and groundwater on thermal habitat availability for brook trout populations

Brook charr (Salvelinus fontinalis) is a sentinel fish species that requires clean, cold water habitats generally resulting from landscapes that allow for surface water flows devoid of sediment and contaminants and high groundwater discharge of cold water. As such, brook charr are impacted by land cover changes that alter stream temperature regimes. We evaluated brook charr populations across their eastern and midwestern range in the United States with reference to thermal habitat availability in relationship to land cover and percent baseflow. We found that while forest cover does protect brook charr thermal habitat, high levels of groundwater discharge can allow for increased levels of agriculture within a watershed by keeping the water cold in spite of warm ambient summer temperatures. Our study concludes that with enhanced communication among land, water and fisheries managers, society can provide for sustainable stream salmonid populations despite increased threats on cold water resources.

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