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Potential spread of Great Lakes fishes given climate change and proposed dams: an approach using circuit theory to evaluate invasion risk

Abstract

The Great Lakes currently harbour a number of non-native fishes that are thermally limited to the comparatively warm waters of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Climate change could facilitate the inland spread of many non-native species as the Great Lakes and their tributaries warm, putting thousands of inland lakes and streams at risk. We investigated how watershed network configurations, climate change and proposed hydro-power development could influence invasion risk in the Great Lakes Basin. Electric circuit theory was used to model hydrologic accessibility of aquatic ecological networks (i.e., lake, river, and impoundment chains) within tertiary watersheds. Risk of invasion was measured as the product of probability of non-native species spread (hydrologic accessibility) and amount of suitable thermal habitat under an ensemble of air temperature projections. Proposed hydro-power dam sites and their upstream catchments were used to evaluate changes in total risk of invasion given passable, semi-passable, and impassable dams. We show that projected climate change will lead to more coolwater stream and warmwater lake habitat. Overall invasion risk of cool- and warmwater species was highest in southern Ontario and surprisingly in northern watersheds draining into Lake Superior. This risk could be partially mediated by proposed dams if dams reduce connectivity and access to potentially suitable habitat. Our evaluation of mean invasion risk provides a broad-scale comparative tool for management of invasive species control options.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank and appreciate the work of two anonymous reviewers and the editor for their constructive reviews of the original manuscript. The research was funded by the following sources: Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant to DAJ, the NCSERC Canadian Network for Aquatic Ecosystem Services (CNAES), and the Invasive Species Centre (2014/2015 cycle). We also acknowledge and appreciate in kind support from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests, Canada.

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Correspondence to Stephanie J. Melles.

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Appendix: Lake area in relation to number of lakes in tertiary watersheds of the GLB. A) Current (2011) thermal lake habitat amount for cool and warmwater fishes, b) A2 projected thermal lake habitat amounts (PNG 1677 kb).

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Melles, S.J., Chu, C., Alofs, K.M. et al. Potential spread of Great Lakes fishes given climate change and proposed dams: an approach using circuit theory to evaluate invasion risk. Landscape Ecol 30, 919–935 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-014-0114-z

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Keywords

  • Invasive species
  • Non-native species
  • Stream-lake chains
  • Aquatic networks
  • Impoundments
  • Risk mapping