Understanding local and geographic factors influencing species distributions is a prerequisite for conservation planning. Our objective in this study was to model local and geographic variability in elevations occupied by native and nonnative trout in the northwestern Great Basin, USA. To this end, we analyzed a large existing data set of trout presence (5,156 observations) to evaluate two fundamental factors influencing occupied elevations: climate-related gradients in geography and local constraints imposed by topography. We applied quantile regression to model upstream and downstream distribution elevation limits for each trout species commonly found in the region (two native and two nonnative species). With these models in hand, we simulated an upstream shift in elevation limits of trout distributions to evaluate potential consequences of habitat loss. Downstream elevation limits were inversely associated with latitude, reflecting regional gradients in temperature. Upstream limits were positively related to maximum stream elevation as expected. Downstream elevation limits were constrained topographically by valley bottom elevations in northern streams but not in southern streams, where limits began well above valley bottoms. Elevation limits were similar among species. Upstream shifts in elevation limits for trout would lead to more habitat loss in the north than in the south, a result attributable to differences in topography. Because downstream distributions of trout in the north extend into valley bottoms with reduced topographic relief, trout in more northerly latitudes are more likely to experience habitat loss associated with an upstream shift in lower elevation limits. By applying quantile regression to relatively simple information (species presence, elevation, geography, topography), we were able to identify elevation limits for trout in the Great Basin and explore the effects of potential shifts in these limits that could occur in response to changing climate conditions that alter streams directly (e.g., through changes in temperature and precipitation) or indirectly (e.g., through changing water use).
Additional publication details
Geographic variability in elevation and topographic constraints on the distribution of native and nonnative trout in the Great Basin