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Geomorphology and fish assemblages in a Piedmont river basin, U.S.A.

January 1, 2003

1. We investigated linkages between fishes and fluvial geomorphology in 31 wadeable streams in the Etowah River basin in northern Georgia, U.S.A. Streams were stratified into three catchment sizes of approximately 15, 50 and 100 km2, and fishes and geomorphology were sampled at the reach scale (i.e. 20–40 times stream width).

2. Non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) identified 85% of the among-site variation in fish assemblage structure and identified strong patterns in species composition across sites. Assemblages shifted from domination by centrarchids, and other pool species that spawn in fine sediments and have generalised food preferences, to darter-cyprinid-redhorse sucker complexes that inhabit riffles and runs, feed primarily on invertebrates, and spawn on coarser stream beds.

3. Richness and density were correlated with basin area, a measure of stream size, but species composition was best predicted (i.e. |r| between 0.60–0.82) by reach-level geomorphic variables (stream slope, bed texture, bed mobility and tractive force) that were unrelated to stream size. Stream slope was the dominant factor controlling stream habitat. Low slope streams had smaller bed particles, more fines in riffles, lower tractive force and greater bed mobility compared with high slope streams.

4. Our results contrast with the ‘River Continuum Concept’ which argues that stream assemblages vary predictably along stream size gradients. Our findings support the ‘Process Domains Concept’, which argues that local-scale geomorphic processes determine the stream habitat and disturbance regimes that influence stream communities.

Publication Year 2003
Title Geomorphology and fish assemblages in a Piedmont river basin, U.S.A.
DOI 10.1046/j.1365-2427.2003.01137.x
Authors D.M. Walters, D.S. Leigh, Mary C. Freeman, B. J. Freeman, C. M. Pringle
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Freshwater Biology
Index ID 5224282
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Patuxent Wildlife Research Center