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Does Variation in Life History and Evolutionary Response Affect Species Vulnerability to Climate Change? Implications for Management

Project Leader:
Project Investigators:
Keith Nislow (USFS)
Andrew Whiteley (University of Massachusetts/ University of Montana)
John O’Leary (Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife)
Maria Meek (Michigan State University)
New Hampshire
Rhode Island
New York
New Jersey
West Virginia
+19 more


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 generally not considered the ability of organisms to adjust their phenotype to the changing environment. Organisms can do this by one of two ways. First, they can adjust their phenotype via non-evolutionary pathways. Second, they can undergo adaptive evolutionary change.

We used two interconnected approaches to evaluate thermal adaptation capacity in a cold-water fish species. 1) Using tagging data, we estimated thermal performance curves for wild fish. The curves indicate how fish body growth will respond to changing temperatures. 2) Using genomic approaches, we developed a unified single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) panel for use across the species’ range to examine adaptive capacity. This panel can be used for high throughput genotyping of individuals to understand genetic diversity, health, and potential for thermal adaptation. Additionally, with the SNP panel we provide a valuable resource to the community of researchers working on Brook Trout conservation and management. The SNP panel will make it possible for individual datasets collected across the range to be standardized so that they can be used to examine both local processes and range wide patterns. Overall, our results help us understand how Brook Trout will respond to a changing climate.

This project was co-funded by the Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center and the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative.


Meek, MH. Unnatural selection and genetic drift: fish population genomics in human dominated ecosystems. Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue University, Dec 2018
Meek, MH. Genomics to the rescue--improving conservation of imperiled fish populations. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto, March 2018
Letcher, B.H., et al. What does small-scale variation in demographic responses to environmental drivers mean in a changing climate, invited, AWRA Spring Specialty Conference, Connecting the dots: the emerging science of aquatic system connectivity, Snowbird, Utah, May 2017.
Letcher, B.H., Aquatic connectivity. Invited, USGS Northeast Climate Science Center 5-year Science meeting, Amherst, MA, May 2017.
Letcher, B.H. and J. Walker, Data visualizations of complex data: useful or just cute? invited, Biennial Connecticut River Research Forum, Hadley, MA, March 2017.
Letcher, B.H., Decision support tools in, invited, Connecticut Conference on Natural Resources, Storrs, CT, March 2017.
Letcher, B.H., Regional databases and models: leveraging information, or 'Why should I contribute to a regional database'?, invited plenary, New England Association of Environmental Biologists, Hartford, CT, March 2017.
M. Meek. Genomics to the rescue—improving conservation of imperiled fishes. Symposium: Advances in Molecular Methods and their Impact on Management of the Great Lakes, International Association for Great Lakes Research, Detroit, MI, May 2017.
Childress, ES, KH Nislow, and BH Letcher. 2016. Managing population portfolios by restoring aquatic connectivity for resident fish populations. Society for Conservation Biology, Madison, WI.
Niles, JM, ES Childress, J Panas, D Edwards, and BH Letcher. 2016. Brook trout population resiliency to catastrophic late summer floods. Susquehanna River Symposium, Lewisburg, PA.
Childress, ES, Connectivity in Stream Networks. Conservation Biology meeting in Madison WI, July 2016.
Childress, ES, KH Nislow, AR Whiteley, M O’Donnell, and BH Letcher. 2015. Influence of extreme temperature and flow events on brook trout recruitment. American Fisheries Society, Portland, OR. 
Whiteley, AR, KH Nislow, and BH Letcher. 2015. Evaluating species sensitivity to climate change in the light of intrinsic adaptive capacity: vulnerability framework and management options.  The Wildlife Society, Winnipeg, Canada.  Invited presentation in the Symposium on Evolutionary Adaptive Capacity.
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Tool: Stream Crossings Explorer (SCE) module of SHEDS

Tagging data: Available Here