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Keywords:

  • Alpine rivers and streams;
  • altitude dependence;
  • brown trout;
  • climatic change;
  • habitat shift;
  • optimum temperature;
  • Proliferative Kidney Disease;
  • regional coherence;
  • sinusoidal regression;
  • water temperature

Abstract

Twenty-five years of extensive water temperature data show regionally coherent warming to have occurred in Alpine rivers and streams at all altitudes, reflecting changes in regional air temperature. Much of this warming occurred abruptly in 1987/1988. For brown trout populations, the warming resulted in an upward shift in thermal habitat that was accelerated by an increase in the incidence of temperature-dependent Proliferative Kidney Disease at the habitat's lower boundary. Because physical barriers restrict longitudinal migration in mountain regions, an upward habitat shift in effect implies habitat reduction, suggesting the likelihood of an overall population decrease. Extensive brown trout catch data documenting an altitudinally dependent decline indicate that such a climate-related population decrease has in fact occurred. Our analysis employs a quantitatively defined reference optimum temperature range for brown trout, based on the sinusoidal regression of seasonally varying field data.