Climate vulnerability assessment for Pacific salmon and steelhead in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem

Major ecological realignments are already occurring in response to climate change. To be successful, conservation strategies now need to account for geographical patterns in traits sensitive to climate change, as well as climate threats to species-level diversity. As part of an effort to provide such information, we conducted a climate vulnerability assessment that included all anadromous Pacific salmon and steelhead (Oncorhynchus spp.) population units listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Using an expert-based scoring system, we ranked 20 attributes for the 28 listed units and 5 additional units. Attributes captured biological sensitivity, or the strength of linkages between each listing unit and the present climate; climate exposure, or the magnitude of projected change in local environmental conditions; and adaptive capacity, or the ability to modify phenotypes to cope with new climatic conditions. Each listing unit was then assigned one of four vulnerability categories. Units ranked most vulnerable overall were Chinook (O. tshawytscha) in the California Central Valley, coho (O. kisutch) in California and southern Oregon, sockeye (O. nerka) in the Snake River Basin, and spring-run Chinook in the interior Columbia and Willamette River Basins. We identified units with similar vulnerability profiles using a hierarchical cluster analysis. Life history characteristics, especially freshwater and estuary residence times, interplayed with gradations in exposure from south to north and from coastal to interior regions to generate landscape-level patterns within each species. Nearly all listing units faced high exposures to projected increases in stream temperature, sea surface temperature, and ocean acidification, but other aspects of exposure peaked in particular regions. Anthropogenic factors, especially migration barriers, habitat degradation, and hatchery influence, have reduced the adaptive capacity of most steelhead and salmon populations. Enhancing adaptive capacity is essential to mitigate for the increasing threat of climate change. Collectively, these results provide a framework to support recovery planning that considers climate impacts on the majority of West Coast anadromous salmonids.

Crozier L. G., McClure M. M., Beechie T., Bograd S. J., Boughton D. A., Carr M., Cooney T. D., Dunham J. B., Greene C. M., Haltuch M. A., Hazen E. L., Holzer D. M., Huff D. D., Johnson R. C., Jordan C. E., Kaplan I. C., Lindley S. T., Mantua N. J., Moyle P. B., Myers J. M., Nelson M. W., Spence B. C., Weitkamp L. A., Williams T. H. & Willis-Norton E., 2019. Climate vulnerability assessment for Pacific salmon and steelhead in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem. PLoS ONE 14 (7): e0217711. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0217711. Article.

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