Aquatic Sciences

, Volume 79, Issue 2, pp 291–307 | Cite as

Spatial and seasonal variability of forested headwater stream temperatures in western Oregon, USA

  • J. A. Leach
  • D. H. Olson
  • P. D. Anderson
  • B. N. I. Eskelson
Research Article


Thermal regimes of forested headwater streams control the growth and distribution of various aquatic organisms. In a western Oregon, USA, case study we examined: (1) forested headwater stream temperature variability in space and time; (2) relationships between stream temperature patterns and weather, above-stream canopy cover, and geomorphic attributes; and (3) the predictive ability of a regional stream temperature model to account for headwater stream temperature heterogeneity. Stream temperature observations were collected at 48 sites within a 128-ha managed forest in western Oregon during 2012 and 2013. Headwater stream temperatures showed the greatest spatial variability during summer (range up to 10 \(^\circ\)C) and during cold and dry winter periods (range up to 7.5 \(^\circ\)C), but showed less spatial variability during spring, fall and wet winter periods (range between 2 and 5 \(^\circ\)C). Distinct thermal regimes among sites were identified; however, geomorphic attributes typically used in regional stream temperature models were not good predictors of thermal variability at headwater scales. A regional stream temperature model captured the mode of mean August temperatures observed across the study area, but overpredicted temperatures for a quarter of the sites by up to 2.8 \(^\circ\)C. This study indicates considerable spatial thermal variability may occur at scales not resolved by regional stream temperature models. Recognizing this sub-landscape variability may be important when predicting distributions of aquatic organisms and their habitat under climate and environment change scenarios.


Stream temperature Stream networks Headwater Pacific Northwest Aquatic habitat 



We greatly acknowledge the cooperation and financial support provided by the Pacific North West Research Station (agreement number: 14-JV-11261953-075). We thank Kelly Christiansen for preparing Fig. 1, Loretta Ellenburg and Dan Mikowski for field efforts, Dan Moore for providing feedback on an earlier draft, and two reviewers and Editor-in-Chief Stuart Findlay for comments that substantially improved the manuscript. We also acknowledge the US Bureau of Land Management for facilitation and support of the Density Management and Riparian Buffer Study for the past two decades.

Supplementary material

27_2016_497_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (218 kb)
Supplementary Fig. 1 (PDF 219 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Forest Resources ManagementThe University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  2. 2.Department of Forest Ecology and ManagementSwedish University of Agricultural SciencesUmeåSweden
  3. 3.USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research StationForestry Sciences LaboratoryORUSA

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