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Keywords:

  • debris flows;
  • geomorphology;
  • process domains;
  • river profiles

[1] In the geologically and topographically diverse mountain ranges of the Pacific Northwest, a broad-scale means of prioritizing salmonid habitat conservation areas based on geomorphic process domains is examined. We propose that steepness and concavity indices derived from the relation between drainage area and channel slope provide a means of identifying basins that express different reach-scale morphologies, fish habitat capacity, and risk of episodic disturbance. Strongly concave river profiles that develop in mountainous terrain indicate that almost all of the relief in the drainage network occurs in headwater streams. In these basins a large proportion of the channel network has low-gradient morphologies, which provide favorable habitat for many salmonid species. The severity of pulse disturbances is also reduced because low-gradient main stem channels inhibit debris flow conveyance, and in these networks the distribution of fish can expand into tributaries, allowing for a spatial spreading of risk. In contrast, rivers with poorly concave or steeper profiles have a greater abundance of high gradient reaches that limit the distribution of fish to a small portion of the channel network and facilitate debris flow-passage. The combined influence of a limited spatial distribution of fish and an increased risk of debris flows may cause populations in these basins to be less resilient to pulse disturbances. A case example from the Klamath Mountains, an area with broad variation in the steepness and concavity of river profiles, was used to develop this approach and aid conservation planning for imperiled populations of anadromous salmonids.