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Individual behaviour and resource use of thermally stressed brook trout Salvelinus fontinalis portend the conservation potential of thermal refugia

Individual aggression and thermal refuge use were monitored in brook trout Salvelinus fontinalis in a controlled laboratory to determine how fish size and personality influence time spent in forage and thermal habitat patches during periods of thermal stress. On average, larger and more exploratory fish initiated more aggressive interactions and across all fish there was decreased aggression at warmer temperatures. Individual personality did not explain changes in aggression or habitat use with increased temperature; however, larger individuals initiated comparatively fewer aggressive interactions at warmer temperatures. Occupancy of forage patches generally declined as ambient stream temperatures approached critical maximum and fish increased thermal refuge use, with a steeper decline in forage patch occupancy observed in larger fish. These findings suggest that larger individuals may be more vulnerable to stream temperature rise. Importantly, even at thermally stressful temperatures, all fish periodically left the thermal refuge to forage. This indicates that the success of refugia at increasing population survival during periods of stream temperature rise may depend on the location of thermal refugia relative to forage locations within the larger habitat mosaic. These results provide insights into the potential for thermal refugia to improve population survival and can be used to inform predictions of population vulnerability to climate change.

PDF document icon Resource Use of Thermally Stressed Brook Trout.pdf — PDF document, 1169 kB (1197590 bytes)

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