Assessing the impact of a downscaled climate change simulation on the fish fauna in an Inner-Alpine River
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This study assesses the impact of a changing climate on fish fauna by comparing the past mean state of fish assemblage to a possible future mean state. It is based on (1) local scale observations along an Inner-Alpine river called Mur, (2) an IPCC emission scenario (IS92a), implemented by atmosphere-ocean global circulation model (AOGCM) ECHAM4/OPYC3, and (3) a model-chain that links climate research to hydrobiology. The Mur River is still in a near-natural condition and water temperature in summer is the most important aquatic ecological constraint for fish distribution. The methodological strategy is (1) to use downscaled air temperature and precipitation scenarios for the first half of the twenty-first century, (2) to establish a model that simulates water temperature by means of air temperature and flow rate in order to generate water temperature scenarios, and (3) to evaluate the impact on fish communities using an ecological model that is driven by water temperature. This methodology links the response of fish fauna to an IPCC emission scenario and is to our knowledge an unprecedented approach. The downscaled IS92a scenarios show increased mean air temperatures during the whole year and increased precipitation totals during summer, but reduced totals for the rest of the annual cycle. These changes result in scenarios of increased water temperatures, an altered annual cycle of flow rate, and, in turn, a 70 m displacement in elevation of fish communities towards the river’s head. This would enhance stress on species that rely on low water temperatures and coerce cyprinid species into advancing against retreating salmonids. Hyporhithral river sectors would turn into epipotamal sectors. Grayling (Thymallus thymallus) and Danube salmon (Hucho hucho), presently characteristic for the Mur River, would be superceded by other species. Native brown trout (Salmo trutta), already now under pressure of competition, may be at risk of losing its habitat in favour of invaders like the exotic rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), which are better adapted to higher water temperatures. Projected changes in fish communities suggest an adverse influence on salmonid sport fishing and a loss in its high economic value.