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Grantee Research Project Results

Grantee Research Project Results

Evaluating the Evolution of Habitat for Fish Species in Headwaters Across the United States

EPA Grant Number: FP917099
Title: Evaluating the Evolution of Habitat for Fish Species in Headwaters Across the United States
Investigators: Kelleher, Christa Ann
Institution: University of Pennsylvania
EPA Project Officer: Jones, Brandon
Project Period: August 23, 2010 through August 22, 2013
Project Amount: $111,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2010)
Research Category: Fellowship - Ecosystem Services: Aquatic Systems Ecology , Academic Fellowships

Description:

Objective:

Headwater streams are the smallest streams within the river network. They account for a large cumulative amount of stream length across the United States, but are often not gauged, meaning that little is known about their current characteristics. Headwater streams, which represent critical habitat for a wide range of species, are assumed to be highly sensitive to both climate and land use change. The purpose of this proposal is to understand both historical and future changes to headwater streams, and to predict how this will affect aquatic ecosystems within this habitat.

Synopsis:

The purpose of my project is to understand how ecosystem services within headwater streams will be affected by climate and land use change across the United States. Headwaters represent the small and largely ungauged streams within the river network, but account for a large fraction of the total stream length across the country. I plan to examine headwaters in very different parts of the United States to see how changes to ecosystem services will vary with climate and geography.

Approach:

I plan to begin my analysis by examining data from eight experimental headwater catchments with long-term records of climate and hydrology measurements that are located throughout the United States. An empirical approach will help to determine how headwater streams in different parts of the United States have already responded to climate and land use change. The second part of the analysis will model these changes using a coupled hydrologic-water temperature model. The model will be used to determine how ecosystem services have historically been affected by change and to project changes for climate and land use scenarios into the future. I plan to regionalize the model output to different headwater streams based on a conceptual approach that captures the controls for change. Based on the regionalization and a database of fish species requirements, I plan to map out how habitat, in terms of streamflow and water temperature, will change under climate and land use scenarios for a range of fish species across the United States.

Expected Results:

The proposed research will provide a predictive model of how ecosystem services within headwater streams will be affected by both climate and land use change. I hypothesize that headwaters will see greater impacts to streamflow and ecology than any other part of the stream network. Because the research will investigate headwaters in a range of different settings, we also will show how impacts to ecosystem services will vary across the United States. The results of this project may identify controls that mediate the impacts of environmental change within headwaters, which can be used by planners and policy makers to protect these areas of unique habitat.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection:

There is currently a lack of understanding as to how headwater streams and the ecosystems they support will respond to climate and land use change across the United States. This project will make recommendations as to how these areas will be impacted that will help to encourage protection of these areas. In addition, the project hopes to identify controls that mediate the effects of change, which can be used to determine strategies to soften the impact of change within these watersheds.

Supplemental Keywords:

hydrology, climate change, ecosystem services, aquatic ecosystems,

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The perspectives, information and conclusions conveyed in research project abstracts, progress reports, final reports, journal abstracts and journal publications convey the viewpoints of the principal investigator and may not represent the views and policies of ORD and EPA. Conclusions drawn by the principal investigators have not been reviewed by the Agency.

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