Munsch, S. H., Greene, C. M., Mantua, N. J., and Satterthwaite, W. H.

Publication Date

25 January 2022

Publication Name

Global Change Biology

Tuesday January 25, 2022

People seek reliable natural resources despite climate change. Diverse habitats and biologies stabilize productivity against disturbances like climate, prompting arguments to promote climate-resilient resources by prioritizing complex, less-modified ecosystems. These arguments hinge on the hypothesis that simplifying and degrading ecosystems will reduce resources’ climate resilience, a process liable to be cryptically evolving across landscapes and human generations, but rarely documented. Here, we examined the industrial era (post 1848) of California’s Central Valley, chronicling the decline of a diversified, functional portfolio of salmon habitats and life histories and investigating for empirical evidence of lost climate resilience in its fishery. Present perspectives indicate that California’s dynamic, warming climate overlaid onto its truncated, degraded habitat mosaic severely constrains its salmon fishery. We indeed found substantial climate constraints on today’s fishery, but this reflected a shifted ecological baseline. During the early stages of a stressor legacy that transformed the landscape and — often consequently — compressed salmon life history expression, the fishery diffused impacts of dry years across a greater number of fishing years and depended less on cool spring-summer transitions. The latter are important given today’s salmon habitats, salmon life histories, and resource management practices, but are vanishing with climate change while year-to-year variation in fishery performance is rising. These findings give empirical weight to the idea that human legacies influence ecosystems’ climate resilience across landscapes and boundaries (e.g., land/sea). They also raise the question of whether some contemporary climate effects are recent and attributable not only to increasing climate stress, but to past and present human actions that erode resilience. In general, it is thus worth considering that management approaches that prioritize complex, less-modified ecosystems may stabilize productivity despite increasing climate stress and such protective actions may be required for some ecological services to persist into uncertain climate futures.

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