Will Climate Change Influence the Metapopulation Dynamics of the Arctic Grayling?

EPA Grant Number: FP917459
Title: Will Climate Change Influence the Metapopulation Dynamics of the Arctic Grayling?
Investigators: Golden, Heidi E
Institution: University of Connecticut
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: August 1, 2012 through July 31, 2015
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Ecology


Alterations in aquatic habitat connectivity on Alaska’s North Slope due to climate change will likely increase habitat fragmentation and decrease habitat quality due to changes in hydrology, precipitation patterns and permafrost structure, thus influencing metapopulation configuration and population dynamics of freshwater migratory species, such as the Arctic grayling. This research will assess the connectivity between critical habitats within populations and gene flow between populations of Arctic grayling at three different timescales: Evolutionary (generations – centuries), Ecological (decadal) and Sampling (yearly), to determine metapopulation status and infer population persistence under different connectivity regimes.


Focusing on lakes and rivers on Alaska’s North Slope near the Toolik Lake Long-Term Ecological Research Station, the study will collect caudal fin samples from 30 individuals per location to determine gene flow and population structure for Arctic grayling using 12 variable nuclear DNA (nDNA) microsatellite loci. Additionally, scale samples will be collected from individuals for population demographics and 10 otoliths per location to infer decadal movement patterns and critical ontogenetic habitat locations using correlations between otolith and habitat microchemistry. Further, the study will determine current adult and juvenile movement patterns, demographics and critical habitat locations by weighing and measuring individuals and using passive integrative transponder tags and remote sensing. Finally, the study will incorporate this information into a geospatial model with multiple layers for use in regional planning and management.

Expected Results:

Based on preliminary results from genetic analyses, it is expected that populations within the study area will form genetically distinct clusters primarily based on watershed area and stream distance. Remote monitoring of tagged individuals suggests additional population structure within genetic clusters, likely related to population-specific ontogenetic habitat locations, such as spawning, rearing and overwintering habitats. It is expected that otolith microchemistry will not only corroborate tagging observations, but also will aid in locating critical habitat locations within populations. Incorporating information from genetic, otolith and tagging techniques into geospatial layers will enable delineation of populationspecific management units for use in GIS modeling. These management units will define areas critical to both local population and metapopulation persistence by identifying locations of population susceptibility to landscape level changes in habitat quality and fragmentation.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection

Climate change-related impacts coupled with increased human activity, including tourism, fishing, and road and oil-field development, could threaten the Arctic grayling due to this species’ dependence on multiple, highly connected habitat types. Information from this study will strengthen understanding of habitat fragmentation impacts on both local and metapopulation persistence and provide a practical framework for regional planning and management of metapopulations.

Supplemental Keywords:

climate change, metapopulation, genetics

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2013
  • 2014
  • Final