One of the most influential disturbances for stream fish assemblages is large-scale declines in flow caused by periods of drought. Although stream characteristics are known to influence the response of stream fishes to drought, we asked if ecological traits of stream fishes determine, in part, their population level response to drought. To test for ecological trait-based responses to drought in a stream fish assemblage, we quantified species abundances over a period of 5 years that represented a wet to dry period. We sampled stream fishes in Yellow Creek, Wyoming, USA, a high elevation stream dependent on snow-storage for most of its flow. There were five regularly occurring species in the study site: redside shiner (Richardsonius balteatus), northern leatherside chub (Lepidomeda copei), mottled sculpin (Cottus bairdi), speckled dace (Rhinichthys osculus), and mountain sucker (Catostomus platyrhynchus). We used size class, species, and drought measures as predictors of abundance. Mean Palmer drought severity index over the growing season from the previous year (one year lag) provided the best predictor of stream fish abundances. Four of five species showed strong declines in abundance in response to drought conditions (mountain sucker abundance was not affected), but ecological traits of species were not good predictors of the magnitude of response to drought. Northern leatherside chub are most vulnerable to local extirpation during times of severe drought. Overall, juveniles showed a greater decline in abundance than adults in response to drought. Climate models predict that mountain streams will experience changes in flow regime, which may exacerbate effects of drought. Low flow refuge habitat may need to be incorporated into stream restoration designs to help increase recolonization in streams, especially for stream fishes that are most vulnerable to local extirpation and that have low recolonization rates.



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Life Sciences; Biology



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variation in water flow, Palmer Drought Severity Index, abundance effects, species-specific response, western USA



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