Global climate change and potential effects on Pacific salmonids in freshwater ecosystems of southeast Alaska
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General circulation models predict increases in air temperatures from 1°C to 5°C as atmospheric CO2 continues to rise during the next 100 years. Thermal regimes in freshwater ecosystems will change as air temperatures increase regionally. As air temperatures increase, the distribution and intensity of precipitation will change which will in turn alter freshwater hydrology. Low elevation floodplains and wetlands will flood as continental ice sheets melt, increasing sea-levels. Although anadromous salmonids exist over a wide range of climatic conditions along the Pacific coast, individual stocks have adapted life history strategies—time of emergence, run timing, and residence time in freshwater—that are often unique to regions and watersheds. The response of anadromous salmonids will differ among species depending on their life cycle in freshwater. For pink and chum salmon that migrate to the ocean shortly after they emerge from the gravel, higher temperatures during spawning and incubation may result in earlier entry into the ocean when food resources are low. Shifts in thermal regimes in lakes will change trophic conditions that will affect juvenile sockeye salmon growth and survival. Decreased summer stream flows and higher water temperatures will affect growth and survival of juvenile coho salmon. Rising sea-levels will inundate low elevation spawning areas for pink salmon and floodplain rearing habitats for juvenile coho salmon. Rapid changes in climatic conditions may not extirpate anadromous salmonids in the region, but they will impose greater stress on many stocks that are adapted to present climatic conditions. Survival of sustainable populations will depend on the existing genetic diversity within and among stocks, conservative harvest management, and habitat conservation.
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