The bull trout has a historical range that encompasses many waters across the Northwest. Though once abundant, bull trout have declined in many locations and is now federally listed and protected under the Endangered Species Act. Bull trout populations are at risk to further declines from a changing climate, nonnative species, and habitat degradation.
Informed conservation planning relies on sound and precise information about the distribution of bull trout in thousands of streams, but gathering this information is a daunting and expensive task. To overcome this problem, Rocky Mountain Research Station scientists initiated the range-wide bull trout eDNA project in partnership with biologists from more than 20 organizations.
The range-wide bull trout eDNA project couples 1) predictions from the range-wide, spatially precise Climate Shield model on the location of natal habitats of bull trout with 2) a sampling template for every 8-digit hydrologic unit in the historical range of bull trout, based on the probability of detecting bull trout presence using environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling (McKelvey et al. 2016). The template consists of a master set of geospatially referenced sampling locations at 1-km intervals within each cold-water habitat. Researchers also identified sampling locations at this same 1-km intervals based on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's designation of critical spawning and rearing habitat.
Based on field tests of eDNA detection probabilities conducted by the National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation, this sampling approach will reliably determine the presence of populations of bull trout, as well as provide insights on non-spawning habitats used by adult and subadult fish. The result will be a rapid, robust, and repeatable range-wide assessment of natal habitats of this species, to be completed by 2018.
RMRS scientists are recruiting biologists from across the region to contribute by collecting eDNA samples. Biologists from more than 20 organizations have already lent their support.
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