Elevation and stream slope are abiotic gradients that limit upstream distributions of brook trout Salvelinus fontinalis and brown trout Salmo trutta in streams. We sought to determine whether another abiotic gradient, base-flow pH, may also affect distributions of these two species in eastern North America streams. We used historical data from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's fisheries management database to explore the effects of reach elevation, slope, and base-flow pH on distributional limits to brook trout and brown trout in Pennsylvania streams in the Appalachian Plateaus and Ridge and Valley physiographic provinces. Discriminant function analysis (DFA) was used to calculate a canonical axis that separated allopatric brook trout populations from allopatric brown trout populations and allowed us to assess which of the three independent variables were important gradients along which communities graded from allopatric brook trout to allopatric brown trout. Canonical structure coefficients from DFA indicated that in both physiographic provinces, stream base-flow pH and slope were important factors in distributional limits; elevation was also an important factor in the Ridge and Valley Province but not the Appalachian Plateaus Province. Graphs of each variable against the proportion of brook trout in a community also identified apparent zones of allopatry for both species on the basis of pH and stream slope. We hypothesize that pH-mediated interspecific competition that favors brook trout in competition with brown trout at lower pH is the most plausible mechanism for segregation of these two species along pH gradients. Our discovery that trout distributions in Pennsylvania are related to stream base-flow pH has important implications for brook trout conservation in acidified regions. Carefully designed laboratory and field studies will be required to test our hypothesis and elucidate the mechanisms responsible for the partitioning of brook trout and brown trout along pH gradients. ?? Copyright by the American Fisheries Society 2005.
Additional publication details
Stream pH as an abiotic gradient influencing distributions of trout in Pennsylvania streams