Habitat disturbances are rarely uniform in their magnitude or duration through river networks, creating a shifting mosaic of habitat conditions for freshwater species. Understanding how these habitat disturbances may affect ecological populations, especially when faced with increasing fragmentation, is an on-going challenge. Collaborating with aquatic population ecologists Drs. Phaedra Budy & Tim Walsworth and population ecology biometrician Dr. Mary Conner at Utah State, I have developed an innovative metapopulation model that incorporates local habitat conditions and subpopulation connectivity into a population viability analysis framework (Murphy et al., in review).
Our first application of this model is for Bonneville cutthroat trout of the Logan River (Utah, USA), for which we have 18 years of high-quality empirical population and habitat data for 7 locations (subpopulations) in the river network (Murphy et al., in review). In this study, we examine how incorporating commonly used habitat metrics influence population stability, as well as explore how habitat disturbances, such as climate change and network fragmentation, affect the dynamics and spatial distributions of trout populations. Future applications planned for this model include evaluating the impacts of wildfire-driven habitat disturbance.
Recognizing the increasing threat to ecosystems posed by fragmentation and changing disturbance regimes, our model provides a new tool that allows for the prioritization of restoration efforts and better informed management in landscapes where species conservation and management are a priority.