USDA Forest Service

Pacific Northwest Research Station

Pacific Northwest Research Station
1220 SW 3rd Ave.
Portland, OR 97204

(503) 808-2100

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Spatial Patterns of Habitats and Salmonids

Salmon are closely tied to the culture, history, and economic vitality of the Pacific Northwest, and their preservation is directly linked to the preservation of other species and ecosystems. An economic recovery project led by Kelly Burnett of the PNW Research Station is examining how habitats for salmon are arranged and connected to one another and how these patterns may affect the health of salmon populations in the river networks of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.
Concern over the future of salmon is high. Several populations of Pacific salmon are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The results of this research is helping land and fisheries managers make decisions on restoring salmon habitat, anticipate climate change impacts, and recover at-risk populations of salmon in rivers in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

“ People typically think of different types of stream habitats as disconnected patches. You have fast riffles in one place, and downstream you might have slow pools,” explains Burnett, a research fish biologist. “But fish are mobile. That’s why we’re concentrating on connections between habitat types. We also want to find out how these different habitats respond to different management activities, or to climate change.”

Understanding patterns and connections in streams is complicated. The flow of water connects habitat sites, but flow can vary. In addition, there are other processes that can move up or down stream. These variations are hard for scientists to quantify, but they are very important for fish. Information from the project will help land managers approach not just the question “Do we have enough fish habitat?” but “How is the habitat arranged?”

The work is being accomplished through a joint venture agreement with the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society in Oregon State University’s College of Forestry. The university used economic recovery funds to hire three people: a postdoctoral researcher, a senior faculty research assistant, and a master’s degree student, making up a project team with a range of expertise and professional development. “We are a very interdisciplinary team,” says Lisa Ganio, the OSU lead scientist on the project. “Not only were we able to bring on a student, but this funding also allowed us to provide work for people with a high level of skill, which was essential for a project of this complexity.”

The economic recovery funding provided employment for Ken Vance-Borland, who was hired as the senior faculty research assistant. His duties include using geographic information systems (GIS) and satellite imagery to map locations of fish and fish habitat, then analyzing the relation of these locations to topographical features like channel gradients and water flow. He enjoys the collaborative nature of the job, and appreciates the applicability of the information being obtained. “This work contributes to society’s understanding of managing for salmon and the streams they depend on,” says Vance-Borland. “We are looking at the impacts of all kinds of things: management actions, agriculture, urban development, and fire strategies. How do they affect habitat for salmon?”

Nicholas Som, a postdoctoral scientist on the project, has used economic recovery funding to provide various analytical methods and products that have advanced multiple research studies with the theme of understanding salmonid population patterns. Som’s work has focused on improving the ability of models to simulate the spatial distribution of stream network phenomena, and on better tools for detecting change in paired watershed studies.

US Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Research Station
Last Modified: Tuesday,18November2014 at11:49:00CST

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