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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Fellow Highlight: Understanding and Protecting Brook Trout Habitat. Watch the Video!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

As a Graduate Fellow with the NE CSC, Paul Damkot studies how brook trout are affected by and adapt to climate change. As air temperatures warm, so do water temperatures.  Brook trout are a coldwater species with a narrow optimal thermal range, and prolonged exposure to temperatures much outside that range is usually fatal. In addition, increased hydrologic variability associated with climate change could result in habitat loss at the upstream limits of their distribution, making climate change a very big concern for their long-term survival.

"This could affect the ability of the brook trout to persist throughout its native range of the eastern United States," warned Paul.

Under the guidance of his advisor Dr. Keith Nislow, a NE CSC consortium PI, U.S. Forest Service Fisheries Biologist, and Adjunct Associate Professor of Environmental Conservation at UMass Amherst, Paul and his undergraduate assistants have been sampling brook trout at approximately 200 sites throughout the Connecticut River basin in Massachusetts and Vermont. They are trying to determine the current upstream limit of brook trout distribution, identify factors that influence this distribution, and predict how the distribution might change with increased thermal and hydrologic variability associated with climate change.

Paul Damkot Studies Brook Trout from Addie on Vimeo.

Video footage by NE CSC Communicaitons Intern Andy Castillo.  

Edited by Andy and Communications Intern Sarah Muellejans.

"One of the goals of the NE CSC is to conduct scientific research that is applicable to management. It's important that it be useful to people," said Paul. His research is especially useful to U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and state biologists. Ultimately his research could inform prioritization of areas for environmental protection and habitat restoration. “[We have] questions about climate change and how that affects the availability of habitat for eastern brook trout, our native trout species that we are concerned about,” said Nick Schmal, Regional Fish and Aquatic Ecology Program Leader at the U.S. Forest Service in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  According to Schmal, those interested in using Paul’s work range from state and federal land management agencies and even to private landowners collaborating with these agencies. Schmal said that Paul’s work, “builds upon what we already know and helps people focus on watersheds to do restoration work.”  Schmal says that land managers want to know which watersheds are worth spending time and money on for restoration. Paul’s work will show managers what can be expected of these habitats in future years. 

Schmal recently hosted a workshop on improving aquatic organism passage at stream road crossings.  Paul's research could be used to identify upstream habitat that is most likely to be resilient to climate change, helping to prioritize culvert replacement and barrier removal.

Paul’s work is a clear example of science that helps resource managers adapt to the changing state of our environment. Climate and environmental changes are important factors to consider when it comes to the maintenance and restoration of fish habitats. Schmal believes that this work will be used throughout the NE CSC region and could be applied to studying other trout species’ habitats across the United States.  
When asked about what he hopes for the future of brook trout Paul said, "I would like to make sure the brook trout last longer than I do, and longer than the next generation, and longer than the next generation after that. I think there is value in native species and protecting the species in their habitat.”

By Kayla Marchetti, NE CSC Communications Intern