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Habitat variability key to protecting cutthroat trout

"We concluded that variability in stream habitat protects trout," researcher Brooke Penaluna said.

By Brooks Hays
Habitat variability key to protecting cutthroat trout
One of the streams, in Oregon's Trask River Watershed, simulated by Forest Service scientists. Photo by Brooke Penaluna/USFS

PORTLAND, Ore., Oct. 2 (UPI) -- New research suggests trout like and need variety. Variety, scientists say, can work to shield them from environmental troubles.

Deforestation and climate change are two of the top threats to America's native trout species. Scientists are trying to understand how to better protect cutthroat trout -- the red-jawed species of the Rockies and Pacific tributaries.

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A new study published in the journal PLOS ONE, suggests habitat variability is key to safeguarding a favorite of both fishermen and conservationists in the American West.

Streams with high habitat variability are those with a greater variety of water depths and characteristics -- slow runs and fast riffles, deep holes and long, medium-depth pools.

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Scientists arrived at their conclusions after first building computer models to predict the effects of climate change on trout. The models suggests climate change will result in warmer water temperatures and diminished stream flows in fall and winter -- both bad scenarios for trout, which need cool water and places to hide to survive.

Next, researchers redesigned their models to replicate the structure of actual streams in the Pacific Northwest. These models revealed an important relationship between habitat diversity and inhabitants' resiliency.

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"We were curious about how trout in different streams respond to the same forest harvest scenario and how those responses may change when climate change is also considered," lead study author Brooke Penaluna, a research fisheries biologist with the Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station, said in a press release. "We concluded that variability in stream habitat protects trout from both forest harvest and climate change."

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