Spatial modeling to project Southern Appalachian Trout distribution in warmer climate
In the southern Appalachian Mountains, the distributions of native brook trout Salvelinus fontinalis and introduced rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss and brown trout Salmo trutta are presently limited by temperature and are expected to be limited further by a warmer climate. To estimate trout habitat in a future, warmer climate, we produced a regional map of wild trout habitat based on information from stream samples, expert knowledge, and suitable land cover. We then developed a quantile regression model of the elevation–latitude boundary for the present distribution of trout; this constitutes a more direct, spatially explicit approach to modeling trout distribution than the use of thermal limits. In combination with a lapse rate model, the boundary model was used to project future wild trout distributions over a range of higher temperatures. If the predictions of the Hadley Centre global circulation model (GCM) are assumed, about 53% of trout habitat would be lost; if the more extreme Canadian Centre GCM is used, 97% would be lost. With increasing temperature, fragmentation would increase, leaving populations in small, isolated patches vulnerable to extirpation because of the decreased likelihood of recolonization. The regional trout habitat map and the models produced here were useful for making these predictions, and the map could be used for assessing the impacts of other regional stressors.