• Using remote sensing, occupancy estimation, and fine-scale habitat characterization to evaluate fall chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) spawning habitat usage in Arctic Alaska

      Clawson, Chelsea M.; Falke, Jeffrey; Westley, Peter; Prakash, Anupma; Martin, Aaron (2017-08)
      Groundwater upwellings provide stable temperatures for overwinter salmon embryo development and this process may be particularly important in cold, braided, gravel-bed Arctic rivers where rivers may freeze solid in the absence of upwellings. Aerial counts and remote sensing were used during 2013-2015 to estimate fall chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) spawner abundance states (e.g., low or high), classify river segments by geomorphic channel type (primary, flood, and spring), and map thermal variability along a 25.4 km stretch of the Chandalar River in interior Alaska. Additionally, I used on-the-ground examination of fine scale variation in physical habitat characteristics at 11 representative sites to characterize habitat variability, placed temperature loggers to assess overwinter thermal conditions in redds, and used a developmental model to predict hatching and emergence timing given known spawning dates and incubation temperatures. I delineated 330 unique river segments (mean length = 536 m) and used a multi-season multistate occupancy model to estimate detectability, occupancy, and local colonization and extinction rates. Triplicate surveys performed in 2014 allowed me to estimate detectability and the influence of observer bias. I found that detectability did not vary by observer, channel type, or segment length, but was better for high abundance (0.717 ± 0.06 SE) relative to low abundance (0.367 ± 0.07 SE) aggregations. After correcting for imperfect detection, the proportion of segments occupied by spawning fall chum salmon was highest in 2014 (0.41 ± 0.04 SE), relative to 2013 (0.23 ± 0.04) and 2015 (0.23 ± 0.04). Transition probabilities indicated unoccupied segments were likely to remain so from year to year (2013→2014 = 0.67; 2014→2015 = 0.90), but low abundance spawning segments were dynamic and rarely remained in that state. One-third of high abundance sites remained so, indicating the presence of high quality spawning habitat. Mean segment temperatures ranged from -0.5 to 4.4°C, and occupancy varied positively with temperature. I predicted a 50% probability of occupancy in segments with temperatures of 3°C. With my on-the-ground work, I found that habitat characteristics varied among the three channel types, with most significant differences between main channel and off-channel habitats. Dissolved oxygen and pH decreased with increasing temperature, and conductivity increased with temperature. Predicted hatching and emergence timing ranged from 78 and 176 days (December 11th and March 18th) to 288 and 317 days (July 8th and August 6th), respectively, post-spawning, and were highly variable within sites and among channel types owing to high habitat thermal heterogeneity. Because the Chandalar River supports 30% of the fall chum salmon run in the Yukon River Basin, information such as provided by this study will be critical to allow resource managers to better understand the effects of future climate and anthropogenic change in the region.