Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Washington
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Washington Project

Managing the Nations Fish Habitat at Multiple Spatial Scales in a Rapidly Changing Climate

December 2009 - March 2013


Participating Agencies

  • U.S. Geological Survey

Need-- The goal of this project is to provide guidance to aquatic resource managers and decision makers for managing fish habitat and their associated aquatic communities. We propose toprovide information and tools that will facilitate the conservation and management of aquatic resources in the face of global climate and land-use change. Our proposed research will inform management and conservation efforts performed at multiple spatial scales, ranging from the regional prioritization of critical aquatic habitats to local population dynamics of ecologically and economically valuable fish species. Successful conservation and management of aquatic habitat and the fisheries within these systems is predicated upon the ability to forecast future environmental change (USGS Circular 1309, 2007). Water needs for consumption and energy production, agricultural and urban development, climate change, and invasive species endanger freshwater habitat and their associated biological communities at levels greater than terrestrial and marine systems (Dudgeon et al. 2006). As a consequence, fish habitat quality and quantity and subsequently aquatic species are declining nationwide (Abell et al. 2000; Jelks et al. 2008). An important first step in managing the nation's fish habitat is a comprehensive assessment of the current state of habitat at national, regional and local scales. Assessment of habitats that are most in need of management and assessing the threats associated with these habitats, will allow managers to better prioritize conservation and restoration actions. A robust assessment should allow for an understanding of the current state of aquatic habitat from the national to regional scales, and ultimately to the local management scale. Assessments, however, represents a static picture of the past; and successful management of aquatic habitat will require a capacity to forecast changes in habitat as a result of future changes in climate, land-use, and other natural and anthropogenic factors. Successful conservation and management will need to answer the fundamental question, what are the critical habitat and resource strategies to conserve in order to maintain freshwater biodiversity, freshwater fisheries and ecosystem function in the future? Potential climate-induced changes in the biophysical processes that drive freshwater ecosystems coupled with human-induced, land-use change have resulted in declining aquatic habitat condition nation-wide (Poff et al. 2002; Allan 2004). Coupling multiscale habitat evaluation with downscaled climate information will allow managers to understand where critical resources must be protected and prioritize future management actions. While downscaled climate models are urgently needed, the current tools that have been developed are at much broader scales and have limited utility at regional and local levels. Atmosphere-Ocean General Circulation Models (AOGCMs) have proven useful to predict the potential impacts of climate change at large spatial scales (Bolin et al. 1986; Melack et al. 1997). However, there is a mismatch between the broad-scale predictions from these models and the more local management of fish and aquatic habitats. Development of methods that integrate forecasts of land-use and climate change for prediction of changes in aquatic habitat within nested national, regional, and local scales are urgently needed. The goal of this project is to develop a multi-scale assessment of the current and future status of fish habitat (and predicted biological responses) under scenarios of projected climate and land-use changes at national, regional, and local scales. We will develop: 1) a coarse assessment of vulnerable habitat across the nation useful to National Fish Habitat Action Plan (NFHAP) board and federal national offices, 2) medium resolution information across four regions appropriate for NFHAP partnerships and state agencies, and 3) relatively high resolution data about current and future habitat status so that local managers and stakeholders can identify the appropriate spatial scale where lentic and lotic habitats and associated biological communities are most vulnerable to climate and land-use changes.