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Floodplain Rehabilitation as a Hedge against Hydroclimatic Uncertainty in a Migration Corridor of Threatened Steelhead

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Abstract

A strategy for recovering endangered species during climate change is to restore ecosystem processes that moderate effects of climate shifts. In mid‐latitudes, storm patterns may shift their intensity, duration, and frequency. These shifts threaten flooding in human communities and reduce migration windows (conditions suitable for migration after a storm) for fish. Rehabilitation of historic floodplains can in principle reduce these threats via transient storage of storm water, but no one has quantified the benefit of floodplain rehabilitation for migrating fish, a widespread biota with conservation and economic value. We used simple models to quantify migration opportunity for a threatened migratory fish, steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss), in an episodic rain‐fed river system, the Pajaro River in central California. We combined flow models, bioenergetic models, and existing climate projections to estimate the sensitivity of migration windows to altered storm patterns under alternate scenarios of floodplain rehabilitation. Generally, migration opportunities were insensitive to warming, weakly sensitive to duration or intensity of storms, and proportionately sensitive to frequency of storms. The rehabilitation strategy expanded migration windows by 16–28% regardless of climate outcomes. Warmer conditions raised the energy cost of migrating, but not enough to matter biologically. Novel findings were that fewer storms appeared to pose a bigger threat to migrating steelhead than warmer or smaller storms and that floodplain rehabilitation lessened the risk from fewer or smaller storms across all plausible hydroclimatic outcomes. It follows that statistical downscaling methods may mischaracterize risk, depending on how they resolve overall precipitation shifts into changes of storm frequency as opposed to storm size. Moreover, anticipating effects of climate shifts that are irreducibly uncertain (here, rainfall) may be more important than anticipating effects of relatively predictable changes such as warming. This highlights a need to credibly identify strategies of ecosystem rehabilitation that are robust to uncertainty.

Rehabilitación de Planicies Inundables como Cerco contra la Incertidumbre Hidroclimática en un Corredor Migratorio de Oncorhynchus mykiss, Especie Amenazada
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Language: Spanish

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2013

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