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Keywords:

  • dam removal;
  • river restoration;
  • ecological model;
  • Sander vitreus

Abstract

Many dams in the USA have outlived their intended purpose and an increasing number are being considered for removal. Yet, quantitative studies of the potential physical, biological and ecological responses are needed to assess dam removal decisions. In this paper, the responses of migratory walleye (Sander vitreus) to increased spawning habitat availability as a result of dam removal was studied by comparing scenarios with and without a high-head dam in the Sandusky River (Ohio), a major tributary to Lake Erie. A conceptual, ecological model was proposed to define the relationship between hydrodynamics and walleye spawning, egg hatching, larval drift and survival. A mathematical, ecological model of the early life-history stages was then developed and coupled with time series of depth and velocity predictions over the spawning grounds from a 1-D hydrodynamic model. Model simulations were run for 1984–1993 for both the with- and without-dam scenarios to assess the potential benefit of dam removal. The simulation results demonstrated that velocity, depth and water temperature are major factors influencing adult walleye spawning success. Without the dam, 10 times the amount of spawning habitat would be available for walleye to spawn. This increase in spawning habitat area resulted in up to five times the total egg deposition and seven times the larval output to the nursing grounds, based on the assumption that 5% of the walleye population of Lake Erie migrated up the Sandusky River to spawn. We concluded that the spawning habitat in the current condition (with the dam) is limiting and additional spawning habitat upstream could significantly increase the number of larval walleye drifting to Lake Erie. The model sensitivity analysis showed that the number of walleye migrating up the river in spring is the dominant factor for larval recruitment to the lake. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.