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Pattern detection in stream networks: Quantifying spatial variability in fish distribution

August 10, 2015

Biological and physical properties of rivers and streams are inherently difficult to sample and visualize at the resolution and extent necessary to detect fine-scale distributional patterns over large areas. Satellite imagery and broad-scale fish survey methods are effective for quantifying spatial variability in biological and physical variables over a range of scales in marine environments but are often too coarse in resolution to address conservation needs in inland fisheries management. We present methods for sampling and analyzing multiscale, spatially continuous patterns of stream fishes and physical habitat in small- to medium-size watersheds (500–1000 hectares). Geospatial tools, including geographic information system (GIS) software such as ArcInfo dynamic segmentation and ArcScene 3D analyst modules, were used to display complex biological and physical datasets. These tools also provided spatial referencing information (e.g. Cartesian and route-measure coordinates) necessary for conducting geostatistical analyses of spatial patterns (empirical semivariograms and wavelet analysis) in linear stream networks. Graphical depiction of fish distribution along a one-dimensional longitudinal profile and throughout the stream network (superimposed on a 10-metre digital elevation model) provided the spatial context necessary for describing and interpreting the relationship between landscape pattern and the distribution of coastal cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki clarki) in western Oregon, U.S.A. The distribution of coastal cutthroat trout was highly autocorrelated and exhibited a spherical semivariogram with a defined nugget, sill, and range. Wavelet analysis of the main-stem longitudinal profile revealed periodicity in trout distribution at three nested spatial scales corresponding ostensibly to landscape disturbances and the spacing of tributary junctions.