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Discontinuities and functional resilience of large river fish assemblages

July 20, 2018

Functional composition of communities across scales is increasingly used to infer resilience of biotic communities to environmental change. To assess the relevance of these concepts to management of large rivers, analyses were applied to fish community data of the Upper Mississippi River. First, to evaluate whether there was evidence for structural patterns in fish size distributions, a discontinuity analysis was performed. Using long‐term fish data, consistent discontinuities were identified across 14 reaches, suggesting similar structuring processes occur throughout the nearly 1300 river kilometers represented by those reaches. Increased variability in species abundance in relation to proximity to edges of body size aggregations supports the discontinuity hypothesis that body size aggregations are structured by key processes. Functional richness and redundancy were quantified within and across identified scales for each of 14 river reaches. Diversity of trophic and spawning guilds was generally greater in the upstream reaches in comparison with downstream reaches, with the exception of the diversity of large‐bodied spawning guilds. Evidence of functional shifts in the composition of fishes occurred, but differed by size aggregations, likely reflecting scale‐specific resource availability. Redundancy of spawning and trophic groups across body size aggregations suggested downstream reaches of this system may be less resilient to disturbances and were weakly associated with reduced habitat diversity. These findings suggest that discontinuities in large river fish assemblages do occur and may provide indication of shifting resource availability. Further investigation of the underlying processes and scales that support resource availability will be critical to managing for resilience in large river ecosystems.