Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2018MT321B

Student Research: Are Montana's Aquatic Ecosystems Becoming a "Hot Mess" Due to Climate Change

Institute: Montana
Year Established: 2018 Start Date: 2018-03-01 End Date: 2019-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $2,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $6,271

Principal Investigators: Kristen Cook

Abstract: Diseases involve interactions among a pathogen, its hosts, and their physical environment, making these relationships analogous to small ecosystems. Prolific kidney disease (PKD) is a parasitic disease beginning to wreak havoc on coldwater fish around the world as global climate change warms river waters. The strong connectivity between temperature and PKD development and mortalities suggest climate change will result in increased disease prevalence, severity, and distributions (Okamura et al. 2011). PKD has already proven to be a leading source of declines in many European salmonid populations (Burkhardt-Holm et al. 2005) and was responsible for the mass mortality of mountain whitefish in 2016 on the Yellowstone River, Montana. The parasite is present in several river systems in western Montana (Opitz 2017) and river temperatures are expected to continue to increase (Gooseff et al. 2005). With future climbing river temperatures, this disease has the potential to affect aquatic plant (Orwick 2012, Chiaramonte et al. 2016) and animal communities (Baldwin et al. 1998), alter aquatic food chains (Steinback 2009), reduce salmonid populations (Burkhardt-Holm et al. 2005), and threaten Montana’s cherished angling opportunities and the revenues that come with them. The Madison River is world-renowned for its salmonid angling opportunities. It also is one of the state’s warmest rivers and has tested positive for T. bryosalmonae (Opitz 2017). With recent declines in Madison River mountain whitefish populations (D. Moser, personal communication), there is interest in identifying possible limiting factors for this indicator species. Therefore, as a Montana Water Center Graduate Student Fellow, I propose to model variation in T. bryosalmonae presence and load in response to thermal, spatial, and temporal variables in mountain whitefish habitat in the Madison River. The data from modeling T. bryosalmonae prevalence will be used to leverage funding for a follow up field-based study of mountain whitefish susceptibility to T. bryosalmonae while under thermal stress. This knowledge will help mangers predict future PKD outbreaks, and manage river closures and upstream water releases in relation to timing, temperature, and location of T. bryosalmonae prevalence.