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Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) Conservation Biology CB - Mathematical Biology and Systems Monitoring


Ecological Concerns
Ecological Concerns data dictionary
Evaluating the status of threatened and endangered salmonid populations requires information on the current status of the threats (e.g., habitat, hatcheries, hydropower, and invasives) and the risk of extinction (e.g., status and trend in the Viable Salmonid Population criteria). For salmonids in the Pacific Northwest, threats generally result in changes to physical and biological characteristics of freshwater habitat. These changes are often described by terms like "limiting factors" or "habitat impairment." For example, the condition of freshwater habitat directly impacts salmonid abundance and population spatial structure by affecting carrying capacity and the variability and accessibility of rearing and spawning areas. Thus, one way to assess or quantify threats to ESUs and populations is to evaluate whether the ecological conditions on which fish depend is improving, becoming more degraded, or remains unchanged.

In the attached spreadsheets, we have attempted to consistently record limiting factors and threats across all populations and ESUs to enable comparison to other datasets (e.g., restoration projects) in a consistent way. Limiting factors and threats (LF/T) identified in salmon recovery plans were translated in a common language using an ecological concerns data dictionary (see "Ecological Concerns" tab in the attached spreadsheets) (a data dictionaries defines the wording, meaning and scope of categories). The ecological concerns data dictionary defines how different elements are related, such as the relationships between threats, ecological concerns and life history stages. The data dictionary includes categories for ecological dynamics and population level effects such as "reduced genetic fitness" and "behavioral changes." The data dictionary categories are meant to encompass the ecological conditions that directly impact salmonids and can be addressed directly or indirectly by management (habitat restoration, hatchery reform, etc.) actions. Using the ecological concerns data dictionary enables us to more fully capture the range of effects of hydro, hatchery, and invasive threats as well as habitat threat categories. The organization and format of the data dictionary was also chosen so the information we record can be easily related to datasets we already posses (e.g., restoration data).

Research Themes

Habitats to support sustainable fisheries and recovered populations
Healthy oceans, coastal waters, and riverine habitats provide the foundation for aquatic resources used by a diversity of species and society. Protecting marine, estuarine and freshwater ecosystems that support these species relies on science to link habitat condition/processes and the biological effects of restoration actions. The NWFSC provides the habitat science behind many management actions taken by NOAA Fisheries and other natural resource agencies to protect and recover aquatic ecosystems and living marine resources. The NWFSC also maintains a longstanding focus on toxic chemical contaminants, as a foundation for regional and national research on pollution threats to fisheries and protected resources.
Recovery and rebuilding of marine and coastal species
The Pacific Northwest is home to several iconic endangered species, including Pacific salmon and killer whales, and several rockfish species. Mandates such as the Endangered Species Act, MagnusonStevens Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, grant NOAA Fisheries the authority to manage the recovery of depleted species and stocks. The NWFSC contributes to species recovery through research, monitoring and analysis, providing NOAA managers and regional stakeholders the tools and information they need to craft effective regulations and develop sustainable plans for recovery.

Research Foci

Characterize the interaction of human use and habitat distribution, quantity and quality
The ability to define the state of an ecosystem requires insight into the natural processes within habitats, and how anthropogenic interactions with these processes can alter ecosystems and marine organisms. A wide diversity of human activities -- land use and water withdrawals, industrialization and dredging, fishing practices and climate change (e.g., ocean acidification) -- directly and indirectly impact critical freshwater, estuarine, and marine habitats. To best manage west coast marine, estuarine and freshwater habitats in a sustainable fashion, it is necessary to map the spatial and temporal footprint of human impacts and review their potential biological impact on each species of interest. Measurement parameters will be developed to determine the full range of human impacts using spatial data and improved habitat classification.
Describe the relationships between human activities and species recovery, rebuilding and sustainability
Human activities play a major role in determining the status of species and stocks. Rebuilding and recovery therefore need to address how these activities affect their status. At the NWFSC, biophysical modeling is used to link specific human activities such as land use and pollution to habitat conditions, and then to link these conditions and other activities to particular life stages. These models can be used to quantitatively assess how human activities influence species abundance, productivity, distribution and diversity. Not surprisingly, altering human activities in some way is often necessary for species or stock recovery and rebuilding. It is therefore important to understand the socio-economic effects of alternative management structures. Gathering data on their economic costs and social impacts helps identify actions that are cost-effective. These actions will need to be resilient to potential changes in climate throughout the region. Research on how humans react to management strategies helps policy makers avoid those that lead to unintended consequences that can hinder rather than help recovery.
Develop effective and efficient habitat restoration and conservation techniques
Maintaining and re-establishing viability and sustainability of living marine resources requires conservation and rehabilitation or restoration of habitats upon which species depend. Common habitat restoration approaches and tech-niques often presume that habitats are static features of the environment, and that creation of stable habitats is a desirable restoration strategy. However, riverine, nearshore, and marine habitats are created and sustained by dynamic landscape, climatic, and oceanographic processes and biota are adapted to changing habitats that are within the range of natural variability. Hence, current restoration strategies often have limited success, in part because they fail to recognize larger scale processes that drive habitat change, and in part because they fail to recognize intrinsic habitat potential of individual restoration sites. The main goals of this research focus are to: improve understanding of how large-scale processes create diverse and dynamic habitats that support marine and anadromous species, better understand how human activities alter habitat-forming processes and habitats, develop new restoration techniques that are compatible with sustainable habitat-forming processes, and understand the variety of actions needed to adequately conserve intact critical habitats. In addition, NWFSC’s research will improve understanding of how new and existing habitat restoration and protection techniques affect fish and habitat at multiple scales (i.e., reach, watershed, Evolutionarily Significant Unit).


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Genus Oncorhynchus


Katie Barnas Torpey
Principal Investigator
Monica Diaz
Internal Collaborator