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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Final Report: Can Wildlife Species Evolve in Response to a Changing Climate? Informing Species Vulnerability Assessments


Benjamin Letcher

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Climate change poses a variety of threats to biodiversity. Most efforts to assess the likely impacts of climate change on biodiversity try to rank species based on their vulnerability under changed environmental conditions. These efforts have often not considered the ability of organisms to adapt to the changing environment. Adding adaptability to models of population persistence should improve accuracy of forecasts. We approach this issue 1) by developing new models of Brook Trout response to changing stream temperatures and flows and 2) by developing a genetic tool for Brook Trout that will allow researchers to understand evolutionary adaption in the wild. Our modelling efforts showed that Brook Trout grow fastest at about 12 C and that this is about two degrees lower than estimates from laboratory studies. The model results also highlighted the importance of tributaries as refuges from floods for small fish and as risky locations for larger fish in warm summers. The genetics tool identified differences among populations from Georgia to Maine and can be used in the future to evaluate genetic adaptation to stream warming among other environmental changes.