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Ecol Appl. 2008 Jan;18(1):246-57.

Incorporating catastrophic risk assessments into setting conservation goals for threatened Pacific salmon.

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Conservation Biology Division, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, 2725 Montlake Boulevard East, Seattle, Washington 98112, USA.


Catastrophic die-offs can have important consequences for vertebrate population growth and biodiversity, but catastrophic risks are not commonly incorporated into endangered-species recovery planning. Natural (e.g., landslides, floods) and anthropogenic (e.g., toxic leaks and spills) catastrophes pose a challenge for evolutionarily significant units (ESUs) of Pacific salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act and teetering at precariously low population levels. To spread risks among Puget Sound chinook salmon populations, recovery strategies for ESU-wide viability recommend at least two viable populations of historical life-history types in each of five geographic regions. We explored the likelihood of Puget Sound chinook salmon ESU persistence by examining spatial patterns of catastrophic risk and testing ESU viability recommendations for 22 populations of the threatened Puget Sound chinook salmon ESU. We combined geospatial information about catastrophic risks and chinook salmon distribution in Puget Sound watersheds to categorize relative catastrophic risks for each population. We then analyzed similarities in risk scores among regions and compared risk distributions among strategies: (1) population groups selected using the ESU viability recommendations of having populations spread out geographically and including historical life-history diversity, and (2) population groups selected at random. Risks from individual catastrophes varied among populations, but overall risk from catastrophes was similar within geographic regions. Recovery strategies that called for two viable populations in each of five geographic regions had lower risk than random strategies; strategies that included life-history diversity had even lower risks. Geographically distributed populations have varying catastrophic-risks profiles, thus identifying and reinforcing the spatial and life-history diversity critical for populations to respond to environmental change or needed to rescue severely depleted or extirpated populations. Recovery planning can promote viability of Pacific salmon ESUs across the landscape by incorporating catastrophic risk assessments.

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