Global streamflow and thermal habitats of freshwater fishes under climate change

Vliet, M.T.H. van; Ludwig, F.; Kabat, P.


Climate change will affect future flow and thermal regimes of rivers. This will directly affect freshwater habitats and ecosystem health. In particular fish species, which are strongly adapted to a certain level of flow variability will be sensitive to future changes in flow regime. In addition, all freshwater fish species are exotherms, and increasing water temperatures will therefore directly affect fishes’ biochemical reaction rates and physiology. To assess climate change impacts on large-scale freshwater fish habitats we used a physically-based hydrological and water temperature modelling framework forced with an ensemble of climate model output. Future projections on global river flow and water temperature were used in combination with current spatial distributions of several fish species and their maximum thermal tolerances to explore impacts on fish habitats in different regions around the world. Results indicate that climate change will affect seasonal flow amplitudes, magnitude and timing of high and low flow events for large fractions of the global land surface area. Also, significant increases in both the frequency and magnitude of exceeding maximum temperature tolerances for selected fish species are found. Although the adaptive capacity of fish species to changing hydrologic regimes and rising water temperatures could be variable, our global results show that fish habitats are likely to change in the near future, and this is expected to affect species distributions