• Broad whitefish (Coregonus nasus) ecology and habitat use in Arctic Alaska: spawning habitat suitability, isotopic niches, life-history variations, and climate change risks to subsistence fisheries

      Leppi, Jason C.; Wipfli, Mark S.; Rinella, Daniel J.; Seitz, Andrew C.; Falke, Jeffrey A. (2021-08)
      Broad Whitefish (Coregonus nasus) is a critically important subsistence species for Alaska's Indigenous communities, yet little is known about the basic ecology of this species at the individual level. Understanding habitat use by Broad Whitefish is challenging due to their mobility and our limited ability to track fish throughout their lives as they move among a suite of habitats that are spatially dispersed, change over time, and are often temporary. The Arctic is undergoing major landscape and ecosystem transformation from climate change and oil and gas development, which may threaten Arctic ecosystems used by Broad Whitefish. This dissertation presents new information on the ecology of Broad Whitefish captured in the Colville River, Alaska. In Chapter 1, an intrinsic potential (IP) model for Broad Whitefish was used to estimate the potential of streams across the watershed to provide spawning habitat. Results were compared with movement patterns of radio-tagged prespawn Broad Whitefish. In Chapter 2, ecological niches utilized by Broad Whitefish were investigated via stable isotope analyses of muscle and liver tissue and otoliths from mature fish. In Chapter 3, strontium isotope (⁸⁷Sr/⁸⁶Sr, ⁸⁸Sr) otolith chronologies across individuals' lives were used to quantify life-history attributes and reconstruct migration patterns of fish. Finally, in Chapter 4, the current understanding of ongoing and future changes to the habitat, productivity, and behavior of Broad Whitefish were summarized to assess risks facing Arctic freshwater ecosystems and fishes more broadly. IP model results showed the majority of habitat with high IP (≥ 0.6) was located within the braided sections of the main channel, which encompassed > 1,548 km, and starting in mid-July, prespawn fish used habitats in the middle and lower watershed. Stable isotope analysis revealed a range of [delt]¹³C (-31.8- -21.9‰) and [delta]¹⁵N (6.6- 13.1‰) across tissue types and among individuals. Cluster analysis of muscle tissue δ¹³Cˈ, δ¹⁵N, δ¹⁸O, and δD indicated that Broad Whitefish occupied four different foraging niches that relied on marine-and land-based (i.e., freshwater and terrestrial) food sources to varying degrees across the summer period. Strontium isotopes revealed six main life histories, including three anadromous types (59%), one semi-anadromous type (28%), and two nonanadromous types (13%), suggesting greater complexity in life-history types than previously documented. Climate change is expected to continue to alter Arctic hydrology and, therefore, suitability, connectivity, and availability of habitats critical for Broad Whitefish population persistence. Warming and lengthening of the growing season will likely increase fish growth rates; however, the exceedance of threshold stream temperatures will likely increase physiological stress and alter life histories, which is likely to have mixed effects on Arctic subsistence fishes and fisheries. This information on Broad Whitefish spawning intrinsic potential, foraging niches, and life histories provides crucial knowledge to understand critical habitats used across time and space, which will help managers and conservation planners better understand the risks of anthropogenic impacts, such as climate change and oil and gas development, and help conserve this vital subsistence resource.
    • Climate change, moose, and subsistence harvest in Arctic Alaska

      Zhou, Jiake; Kielland, Knut; Kofinas, Gary; Tape, Ken D.; Prugh, Laura (2020-08)
      Arctic climate is resulting in transformative changes to Arctic social-ecological systems. With warming-induced increases in tall-shrubs, moose are expanding their range northwards. However, the socio-economic implications of this ecological change are unclear. Using field surveys, interviews, and modeling, I assessed the impact of climate change on moose harvest by hunters of Nuiqsut, an Inupiat community in arctic Alaska. Based on a 568 km transect of field sampling on shrubs and herbivore browsing levels, I estimated that the minimum shrub height for moose occurrence was ≥ 81 cm (95% CI: 65 - 96 cm). Patterns of moose geographic distribution mirrored tall-shrub distribution in arctic riparian areas. I also found that snowshoe hares may impact moose habitat via potential resource competition. Habitat suitability models, using Maxent and simpler temperature-threshold models, predicted that moose habitat may more than double by 2099 if current warming trends continue. The model outputs also suggested that climate warming will likely increase habitat connectivity, enhancing range expansion of moose in the Arctic. Finally, I used a coupled social-ecological systems (SES) framework to assess the implications of changes in tall-shrub habitat to moose harvest under future warming. Despite the expected increase in moose habitat and distribution, simulations of an agent-based model showed that the future may not translate into greater harvest opportunities, largely due to the limitation of river navigability for hunters. These findings provide an example in which rapid landscape and resource change may not translate into increased harvest. The integrated assessment with a SES framework revealed new and surprising outcomes, not evident when evaluating social and ecological components separately. This analysis highlighted how a coupled social-ecological framework can be used to assess the effects of climate change on ecosystem services.
    • Global and local contributors to the historical and projected regional climate change on the North Slope of Alaska

      Cai, Lei; Alexeev, Vladimir A.; Arp, Christopher D.; Bhatt, Uma S.; Liljedahl, Anna K. (2018-05)
      This thesis includes four studies that explore and compare the impacts of four contributing factors resulting in regional climate change on the North Slope of Alaska based on a numerical simulation approach. These four contributing factors include global warming due to changes in radiative forcing, sea ice decline, earlier Arctic lake ice-off, and atmospheric circulation change over the Arctic. A set of dynamically downscaled regional climate products has been developed for the North Slope of Alaska over the period from 1950 up to 2100. A fine grid spacing (10 km) is employed to develop products that resolve detailed mesoscale features in the temperature and precipitation fields on the North Slope of Alaska. Processes resolved include the effects of topography on regional climate and extreme precipitation events. The Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 4.5 scenario projects lower rates of precipitation and temperature increase than RCP8.5 compared to the historical product. The increases of precipitation and temperature trends in the RCP8.5 projection are higher in fall and winter compared to the historical product and the RCP4.5 projection. The impacts of sea ice decline are addressed by conducting sensitivity experiments employing both an atmospheric model and a permafrost model. The sea ice decline impacts are most pronounced in late fall and early winter. The near surface atmospheric warming in late spring and early summer due to sea ice decline are projected to be stronger in the 21st century. Such a warming effect also reduces the total cloud cover on the North Slope of Alaska in summer by destabilizing the atmospheric boundary layer. The sea ice decline warms the atmosphere and the permafrost on the North Slope of Alaska less strongly than the global warming does, while it primarily results in higher seasonal variability of the positive temperature trend that is bigger in late fall and early winter than in other seasons. The ongoing and projected earlier melt of the Arctic lake ice also contributes to regional climate change on the Northern coast of Alaska, though only on a local and seasonal scale. Heat and moisture released from the opened lake surface primarily propagate downwind of the lakes. The impacts of the earlier lake ice-off on both the atmosphere and the permafrost underneath are comparable to those of the sea ice decline in late spring and early summer, while they are roughly six times weaker than those of sea ice decline in late fall and early winter. The permafrost warming resulted from the earlier lake ice-off is speculated to be stronger with more snowfall expected in the 21st century, while the overall atmospheric warming of global origin is speculated to continue growing. Two major Arctic summer-time climatic variability patterns, the Arctic Oscillation (AO) and the Arctic Dipole (AD), are evaluated in 12 global climate models in Coupled Model Intercomparison Program Phase 5 (CMIP5). A combined metric ranking approach ranks the models by the Pattern Correlation Coefficients (PCCs) and explained variances calculated from the model-produced summer AO and AD over the historical period. Higher-ranked models more consistently project a positive trend of the summer AO index and a negative trend of summer AD index in their RCP8.5 projections. Such long-term trends of large-scale climate patterns will inhibit the increase in air temperature while favoring the increase in precipitation on the North Slope of Alaska. In summary, this thesis bridges the gaps by quantifying the relative importance of multiple contributing factors to the regional climate change on the North Slope of Alaska. Global warming is the leading contributing factor, while other factors primarily contribute to the spatial and temporal asymmetries of the regional climate change. The results of this thesis lead to a better understanding of the physical mechanisms behind the climatic impacts to the hydrological and ecological changes of the North Slope of Alaska that have been become more severe and more frequent. They, together with the developed downscaling data products, serve as the climatic background information in such fields of study.
    • Impacts of climate change on juvenile broad whitefish Coregonus nasus in Arctic Alaska: bioenergetics model development and application

      Green, Duncan G.; Sutton, Trent M.; Norcross, Brenda L.; Cunningham, Curry J. (2020-08)
      Anthropogenic climate change is contributing to rising temperatures worldwide, yet the increase is particularly rapid in the Arctic. Despite their position on the front of global temperature warming, the responses of Arctic ecosystems and the individual species within them are poorly understood. Broad whitefish Coregonus nasus in the Alaska nearshore Beaufort Sea not only inhabit a rapidly changing ecosystem, but are also a key component of subsistence harvest in the region and a relatively understudied fish. I parameterized and corroborated a bioenergetics model through species-specific physiological investigation and laboratory rearing trials, and used the resulting model to simulate potential responses in growth and consumption under climate change scenarios projected with global climate models. Simulations at current estimated prey energy densities projected increases in future consumption rates of up to 4% required to maintain historically observed summer growth, while simulations in which prey energy density was reduced by 50% resulted in projected consumption increases of up to 107% necessary to maintain historic growth. Simulations in which prey energy density was increased by 50% indicated the ability for juvenile broad whitefish to reduce consumption rates by up to 32% and maintain current growth rates. These results suggest that, although the physiological effects of rising water temperatures have the potential to increase growth rates of juvenile broad whitefish, climate-induced shifts in prey availability or prey quality are likely to be regulating factors that determine the magnitude and direction of changes in growth rates.
    • Impacts of climate change on mass movements in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska

      Robert, Zena V.; Mann, Daniel; Farquharson, Louise; Romanovsky, Vladimir; Meyer, Franz; Maio, Chris (2021-08)
      The northeastern portion of Denali National Park and Preserve (DENA) is a high-altitude (800 m - 1400 m asl), subarctic (63°N) environment where climate is now changing rapidly. This landscape is underlain by discontinuous permafrost (perennially frozen ground), and the recent surge of mass movements occurring there could be the result of permafrost thaw. Some of these mass movements have the potential to damage the Denali Park Road, alter the flow of groundwater and stream systems, destroy vegetation cover, and endanger the half a million visitors that DENA receives every year. The purpose of this study to understand how mass movements in DENA are being affected by different aspects of climate change, to assess the role of permafrost thaw in their dynamics, to determine when DENA's landscape experienced periods of geomorphic instability in the past, and to better understand the potential trajectory of the landscape changes now occurring. Results show that many ongoing mass movements in DENA are reactivations of landslides that were active earlier in the Holocene (the last 11,700 years). A representative example is the Mile 35 landslide, a complex mass movement initiated along the Park Road during the summer of 2016 after a quiescent period of around 4000 years. I use a combination of remote sensing and field surveys to establish a four-year timeline of this landslide's movements and then compared these observations to records of weather and climate. Results suggest that freeze/thaw processes and extreme rainfall events strongly affect the initiation and subsequent movements of the Mile 35 landslide. Looking farther back in time, lichenometric dating of rockfalls in DENA suggests their frequency peaked 100 to 200 years ago during the initial stages of climate warming at the end of the Little Ice Age. These findings suggest that warming climate triggers a predictable sequence of mass movement responses in DENA, with the initial warming triggering a bout of more frequent rockfalls, and then, as warming penetrates deeper into the ground, causes deep-seated mass movements like the Mile 35 landslide. These results suggest that cycles of hillslope stability and instability in response to climate change are characteristic, long-term features of DENA's ecosystems and dynamic ecosystems and landscapes.
    • Landscape characteristics influence climate change effects on juvenile chinook and coho salmon rearing habitat in the Kenai River watershed

      Meyer, Benjamin; Rinella, Daniel; Wipfli, Mark; Schoen, Erik; Falke, Jeffrey (2020-08)
      Changes in temperature and precipitation as a result of ongoing climate warming in south-central Alaska are affecting juvenile salmon rearing habitat differently across watersheds. Work presented here simulates summer growth rates of juvenile Chinook and coho salmon in streams under future climate and feeding scenarios in the Kenai River (Alaska) watershed across a spectrum of landscape settings from lowland to glacially-influenced. I used field-derived data on water temperature, diet, and body size as inputs to bioenergetics models to simulate growth for the 2030-2039 and 2060-2069 time periods, comparing back to 2010-2019. My results suggest decreasing growth rates under most future scenarios; predicted changes were of lower magnitude in the cooler glacial watershed and main stem and more in montane and lowland watersheds. The results demonstrate how stream and landscape types differentially filter a climate signal to juvenile rearing salmon habitat and contribute to a broader portfolio of habitats in early life stages. Additionally, I examined two years of summer water temperature data from sites throughout our study tributaries to assess the degree to which lower-reach sites are representative of upstream thermal regimes. I found that the lower reaches in the lowland and glacial study watersheds were reasonably representative of daily and seasonal main stem thermal conditions upstream, while in the montane study watershed (elevation and gradient mid-way between the lowland watershed) upstream conditions were less consistent and thus less suitable for thermal characterization by a lower-reach site alone. Together, this work highlights examples of the importance of accounting for habitat diversity when assessing climate change impacts to salmon-bearing streams.