February 14, 2019
Meryl Mims is lead author on a new paper published this week in Ecosphere. She and her colleagues evaluated the potential roles of environmental, demographic, and genetic factors in the success of a species reintroduction. Specifically, they used an individual-based, spatially-explicit computer modeling framework to simulate the reintroduction of bull trout into a river system in eastern Washington State. The research team evaluated where populations of bull trout might persist, their population numbers, and their genetics in the Pend Oreille River. They also looked at how specific traits of bull trout such as the probability of straying to new habitat affected the outcomes, and they examined the effects of dam removals from the river network.
They found that the presence or absence of dams had the greatest overall effect on the probability of bull trout to survive following reintroduction. They also found that the landscape and biological factors such as carrying capacity and stray rate had a much greater effect on genetics over the 200-year simulation than the initial genetic characteristics of the population. This project is one of the first to simultaneously look at genetic outcomes and demographic factors on a realistic landscape with a high-powered computer simulation approach. This work also highlights the utility of simulations in evaluating possible outcomes of species reintroductions when empirical experiments are not feasible.