Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2015PA216B

Determining How Fish Populations Cope with Rapid Environmental Fluctuation: A Case Study in Pennsylvania Streams

Institute: Pennsylvania
Year Established: 2015 Start Date: 2015-03-01 End Date: 2016-02-29
Total Federal Funds: $17,950 Total Non-Federal Funds: $35,759

Principal Investigators: Victoria Braithwaite

Abstract: Habitat degradation and climate change, factors already affecting Pennsylvanian natural history and biodiversity, will be the leading causes of future species extinction. Theoretical models suggest species persistence will require adaptation and migration. However, the potential for phenotypic plasticity to promote population persistence through rapid acclimation to changing environments has not been explored. If plasticity can increase habitat suitability, populations would be less reliant on migration and adaptation, two processes that may act too slowly and unpredictably to ensure long-term persistence. Further, limited knowledge on the processes influencing population vital rates reduces the ability to predict future outcomes of climate change on species adaptive potential, resilience, and persistence. The proposed research uses the iconic Eastern brook trout, Pennsylvania's only native species of trout and a species listed in the state Wildlife Action Plan as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need, to determine how behavioral plasticity influences the ability of individuals to find and use areas of thermal refuge habitat during periods of rapid environmental change. We will use radio transmitters to track fish movement in Loyalsock Creek, Pennsylvania during times of critical thermal stress and quantify movement as a function of different behavioral traits. Further, we will determine genetic correlates to behavior to determine the feasibility of future conservation for specific behavioral traits that increase survival. Understanding how plasticity influences survival, particularly under future climate change scenarios, is urgently needed to inform appropriate natural resource management and conservation.