Availability of food and habitat complexity are two factors generally invoked to explain the high density of fish in vegetated habitats. The role of food resources (zooplankton) and habitat complexity (expressed by a vegetation structural index) in determining juvenile fish abundance and fish species richness in three morphologically contrasted macrophyte types (Sagittaria, Ceratophyllum and Nuphar) was studied for a large, lowland river.
Our results showed that fish abundance increased with food availability, and was maximal for intermediate values of vegetation complexity. Food resources and vegetation complexity did not, however, explain the higher juvenile fish abundance observed in Sagittaria beds. We suggested that plant growth form, acting on fish foraging success and risk of predation, might influence patterns of juvenile fish distribution.
Species-abundance relationships were similar among the three macrophyte types, but relationships between number of fish species (fish richness) and number of samples differed. Fish richness in terms of total number of fish species found at each sampling point showed the same pattern as for fish abundance: it increased with food availability and was highest at intermediate vegetation complexities. However, since both fish abundance and fish richness responded in the same manner to food availability and vegetation complexity, we were not able to distinguish statistically any effect for the specific fish richness formulated by the number of fish species per unit fish abundance. The current paradigm that structural complexity of vegetation provides a wider range of niches, increasing species diversity, was thus not verified. This finding indicates a simple species-abundance relationship (the passive sampling hypothesis), and suggests that no special mechanism acts directly on fish species richness.