Climate Change and Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar): Changes in Flow and Freshwater Habitat in the Burrishoole Catchment
Broderick, Ciaran J. (2012) Climate Change and Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar): Changes in Flow and Freshwater Habitat in the Burrishoole Catchment. PhD thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.
Climate change is anticipated to impact the flow regime of riverine systems with resultant consequences for the freshwater habitat of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) and the long-term sustainability of their population numbers. The Burrishoole catchment, a relatively small but productive salmon catchment (~90 km2) located on Ireland’s west coast, is used as a case study to investigate this. A series of high resolution climate scenarios were employed to examine potential changes in the climate and hydrology of this catchment. The climate scenarios used represent different combinations of greenhouse gas emission scenarios, driving GCMs and statistical/dynamical downscaling models; in addition, three different rainfall-runoff models (HBV, HYSIM and TOPMODEL) were employed – integrating across both structural and parameter uncertainty. By considering multiple model pathways this study attempts to sample across the uncertainties encountered at each stage in the process of translating prescribed anthropogenic forcings into local scale responses in the catchment system. The hydrological projections were examined in the context of the habitat and flow requirements of Atlantic salmon at key stages in their life-cycle (e.g. spawning, migration). Model projections suggest that the catchment is likely to become warmer, with wetter winters and drier summers occurring. The results of the hydrological modelling suggest that this will be accompanied by an increase in the seasonality of its flow regime - manifest in an increase in low (Q95) summer and high (Q05) winter flows. If realised, these changes are likely to impact salmon through a reduction in the availability of preferred habitat, a loss in connectivity across the catchment system and a disruption to the evolved synchrony between the occurrence of optimal in-stream conditions and the time at which certain life history events occur. Each of these factors is likely to impact the processes of migration, reproduction and recruitment - each of which is critical for the long-term viability of healthy, self-sustaining wild stocks in the catchment. Based on the projected flow data it is likely that the carrying capacity and productivity of the catchment may be reduced. In addition, by affecting those life stages which are already subject to significant mortality losses (e.g. fry emergence, smolt migration), changes in climate may result in population collapse - particularly if successive year-classes are affected. The results of the hydrological modelling highlight the sensitivity of smaller spatey catchments to changes in climate. Given that the Burrishoole system is typical of many catchment systems found along Ireland’s western seaboard, the results highlight a vulnerability to climate change which is present more generally across the region.
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