Climate Change Sensitivity Index for Pacific Salmon Habitat in Southeast Alaska

Shanley, C.S. and Albert, D.M., 2014. Climate change sensitivity index for Pacific salmon habitat in southeast Alaska. PloS one, 9(8), p.e104799.
Year Published

Global climate change may become one of the most pressing challenges to Pacific Salmon conservation and management for southeast Alaska in the 21st Century. Predicted hydrologic change associated with climate change will likely challenge the ability of specific stocks to adapt to new flow regimes and resulting shifts in spawning and rearing habitats. Current research suggests egg-to-fry survival may be one of the most important freshwater limiting factors in Pacific Salmon's northern range due to more frequent flooding events predicted to scour eggs from mobile spawning substrates. A watershed-scale hydroclimatic sensitivity index was developed to map this hypothesis with an historical stream gauge station dataset and monthly multiple regression-based discharge models. The relative change from present to future watershed conditions predicted for the spawning and incubation period (September to March) was quantified using an ensemble global climate model average (ECHAM5, HadCM3, and CGCM3.1) and three global greenhouse gas emission scenarios (B1, A1B, and A2) projected to the year 2080. The models showed the region's diverse physiography and climatology resulted in a relatively predictable pattern of change: northern mainland and steeper, snow-fed mountainous watersheds exhibited the greatest increases in discharge, an earlier spring melt, and a transition into rain-fed hydrologic patterns. Predicted streamflow increases for all watersheds ranged from approximately 1-fold to 3-fold for the spawning and incubation period, with increased peak flows in the spring and fall. The hydroclimatic sensitivity index was then combined with an index of currently mapped salmon habitat and species diversity to develop a research and conservation priority matrix, highlighting potentially vulnerable to resilient high-value watersheds. The resulting matrix and observed trends are put forth as a framework to prioritize long-term monitoring plans, mitigation experiments, and finer-scale climate impact and adaptation studies.