Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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Document Type: Journal Article
Center: NWFSC
Document ID: 1619
Title: Human influence on the spatial structure of threatened Pacific salmon metapopulations
Author: A. H. Fullerton, Steven T. Lindley, G. R. Pess, Blake E. Feist, E. Ashley Steel, Paul McElhany
Publication Year: 2011
Journal: Conservation Biology
Volume: 25
Issue: 5
Pages: 932-944
Keywords: connectivity, anthropogenic, viability, network, spatial analysis

To remain viable, populations must be resilient to both natural and human-caused environmental changes.  We evaluated anthropogenic effects on spatial connections among populations of Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and steelhead (O. mykiss) (designated as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act) in the lower Columbia and Willamette rivers.  For several anthropogenic-effects scenarios, we used graph theory to characterize the spatial relation among populations.  We plotted variance in population size against connectivity among populations.  In our scenarios, reduced habitat quality decreased the size of populations and hydropower dams on rivers led to the extirpation of several populations, both of which decreased connectivity.  Operation of fish hatcheries increased connectivity among populations and led to patchy or panmictic populations.  On the basis of our results, we believe recolonization of the upper Cowlitz River by fall and spring Chinook and winter steelhead would best restore metapopulation structure to near-historical conditions.  Extant populations that would best conserve connectivity would be those inhabiting the Molalla (spring Chinook), lower Cowlitz, or Clackamas (fall Chinook) rivers and the south Santiam (winter steelhead) and north fork Lewis rivers (summer steelhead).  Populations in these rivers were putative sources; however, they were not always the most abundant or centrally located populations.  This result would not have been obvious if we had not considered relations among populations in a metapopulation context.  Our results suggest that dispersal rate strongly controls interactions among the populations that comprise salmon metapopulations.  Thus, monitoring efforts could lead to understanding of the true rates at which wild and hatchery fish disperse.  Our application of graph theory allowed us to visualize how metapopulation structure might respond to human activity.  The method could be easily extended to evaluations of anthropogenic effects on other stream-dwelling populations and communities and could help prioritize among competing conservation measures.

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