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Evaluating the Trade-Offs between Invasion and Isolation for Native Brook Trout and Nonnative Brown Trout in Pennsylvania Streams

A popular conservation strategy for native trout species in western North America is to prevent invasions by nonnative trout by installing barriers that isolate native trout populations into headwater streams. In eastern North America, native Brook Trout Salvelinus fontinalis are frequently replaced in coolwater habitats by nonnative Brown Trout Salmo trutta and relegated to small headwater streams. In this study, we compared the effects of isolation and invasion by nonnative Brown Trout on the distribution and demographic structure of Brook Trout populations from 78 trout streams in northwestern Pennsylvania. The Brook Trout and Brown Trout distributions varied in predictable ways along the stream size gradient, with Brown Trout becoming dominant in larger streams. However, there was a prominent barrier effect, with streams 12 times more likely to have Brook Trout than Brown Trout when a downstream barrier was present between the sample site and the nearest Brown Trout stocking location. In comparison, 91% of the streams with Brown Trout had no downstream barrier, suggesting that barriers are important in creating refugia for Brook Trout. Brown Trout also appeared to have a negative impact on Brook Trout population demographics, as Brook Trout populations in sympatry with Brown Trout had fewer age-classes and lower population densities than allopatric Brook Trout populations. Isolating Brook Trout to small headwater streams with downstream barriers that prevent Brown Trout invasion could be a viable conservation strategy in regions where barriers would serve to reduce the negative impacts from Brown Trout. Since barriers could further fragment local Brook Trout populations, however, they would need to be strategically placed to allow for seasonal movements to maintain metapopulation structure and ensure population persistence.

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