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Life history strategies of fish species and biodiversity in eastern USA streams

March 5, 2015

Predictive models have been used to determine fish species that occur less frequently than expected (decreasers) and those that occur more frequently than expected (increasers) in streams in the eastern U.S. Coupling life history traits with 51 decreaser and 38 increaser fish species provided the opportunity to examine potential mechanisms associated with predicted changes in fish species distributions in eastern streams. We assigned six life history traits – fecundity, longevity, maturation age, maximum total length, parental care, and spawning season duration – to each fish species. Decreaser species were significantly smaller in size and shorter-lived with reduced fecundity and shorter spawning seasons compared to increaser species. Cluster analysis of traits revealed correspondence with a life history model defining equilibrium (low fecundity, high parental care), opportunistic (early maturation, low parental care), and periodic (late maturation, high fecundity, low parental care) end-point strategies. Nearly 50 % of decreaser species were associated with an intermediate opportunistic-periodic strategy, suggesting that abiotic factors such as habitat specialization and streamflow alteration may serve as important influences on life history traits and strategies of decreaser species. In contrast, the percent of increaser species among life history strategy groups ranged from 21 to 32 %, suggesting that life history strategies of increaser species were more diverse than those of decreaser species. This study highlights the utility of linking life history theory to biodiversity to better understand mechanisms that contribute to fish species distributions in the eastern U.S.