Stream Physical Characteristics Impact Habitat Quality for Pacific Salmon in Two Temperate Coastal Watersheds

Climate warming is likely to cause both indirect and direct impacts on the biophysical properties of stream ecosystems especially in regions that support societally important fish species such as Pacific salmon. We studied the seasonal variability and interaction between stream temperature and DO in a low-gradient, forested stream and a glacial-fed stream in coastal southeast Alaska to assess how these key physical parameters impact freshwater habitat quality for salmon. We also use multiple regression analysis to evaluate how discharge and air temperature influence the seasonal patterns in stream temperature and DO. Mean daily stream temperature ranged from 1.1 to 16.4°C in non-glacial Peterson Creek but only 1.0 to 8.8°C in glacial-fed Cowee Creek, reflecting the strong moderating influence glacier meltwater had on stream temperature. Peterson Creek had mean daily DO concentrations ranging from 3.8 to 14.1 mg L−1 suggesting future climate changes could result in an even greater depletion in DO. Mean daily stream temperature strongly controlled mean daily DO in both Peterson (R2=0.82, P<0.01) and Cowee Creek (R2=0.93, P<0.01). However, DO in Peterson Creek was mildly related to stream temperature (R2=0.15, P<0.01) and strongly influenced by discharge (R2=0.46, P<0.01) on days when stream temperature exceeded 10°C. Moreover, Peterson Creek had DO values that were particularly low (<5.0 mg L−1) on days when discharge was low but also when spawning salmon were abundant. Our results demonstrate the complexity of stream temperature and DO regimes in coastal temperate watersheds and highlight the need for watershed managers to move towards multi-factor risk assessment of potential habitat quality for salmon rather than single factor assessments alone.
Fellman, J.B., E. Hood, W. Dryer, and S. Pyare