Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Watershed Sciences

Committee Chair(s)

Phaedra Budy


Phaedra Budy


Bethany Neilson


Charles Hawkins


Joseph Wheaton


Brett Roper


Effective conservation strategies for imperiled species require an understanding of processes that influence fitness throughout the organism's life cycle and across the range of habitats needed to complete that cycle. I evaluated factors that affect population viability of bull trout Salvelinus confluentus, a threatened freshwater char species, throughout individual life stages and over the entire life cycle. I assessed the relationship between bull trout egg incubation success and environmental variables. Egg survival was negatively related to the percent of fine sediment in redds and positively related to hydraulic conductivity and the strength of downwelling. Next, I quantified juvenile bull trout survival rates and described movement patterns for this life stage. Juvenile bull trout emigrated from natal headwaters into larger rivers throughout the entire year and across a range of sizes. Estimates of juvenile survival rates improved dramatically when emigration was incorporated into the analysis. I integrated my observations of bull trout survival, growth, and movement to create a life-cycle model, which I used to better understand how populations respond to changes in specific demographic rates. Bull trout populations were particularly sensitive to changes in juvenile growth and survival. The relative effect of changes to fertility rates and adult survival varied depending upon whether a population was composed primarily of large, migratory, or smaller, resident individuals. Dispersal helped to lower the probability of extinction for small or declining populations when neighboring populations were stable. My research demonstrates that bull trout require access to habitats throughout entire watersheds to maintain population viability. My results suggest that limiting anthropogenic sources of fine sediment and maintaining areas of channel complexity that promote downwelling can be important for bull trout embryo survival. Management decisions should also consider the diverse behavior of juvenile bull trout and the wide range of habitat they use. Additionally, connectivity between populations is likely to be important for declining populations to persist. The diversity of life-history strategies expressed by bull trout helps maintain demographic stability within and among populations. As such, preservation of habitat integrity and full life-history diversity is imperative for conservation and recovery of bull trout populations range-wide.