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Decadal Responses of Native Trout Populations to Fire in the U.S. Rocky Mountain West
11:40 AM - 12:00 PM
Tue Nov 28, 2017
Sabal B


Authors: Lisa A Eby

Wildfire often results in striking changes to the landscape resulting in serious concerns about the risk fires create for native trout populations in the West. Even though few studies have examined the decadal scale effects of fire on fish populations, we know that severe fire can result in increased fine sediment loading, warmer water temperature associated with reduced riparian shading, as well as increased nutrient loading. We examined changes in trout populations, native trout diets, and invertebrate prey production after extensive wildfires in the Bitterroot Basin, MT in sites with and without severe wildfire. In the Bitterroot Basin, large wildfires in 2000 burned 1184 km2 in a complex mosaic that varied in severity and caused localized debris flows and fish kills. Over a decade later native cutthroat trout were abundant throughout the basin and more densely populated at sites that previously burned. There was also a shift in stream invertebrate composition to more abundant, smaller insects at these post-burn sites. Unlike cutthroat, exotic brook trout exhibited the most severe declines in reaches influenced by debris flow and most sites have yet to recover over a decade later. Thus, native fish in these connected Rocky Mountain watersheds appear resilient to wildfire.

Lisa A Eby
Assoc. Professor, University of Montana

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