Artificial Spawning Habitats Improve Egg Production of a Declining Diadromous Fish, Galaxias maculatus (Jenyns, 1842)



Anthropogenic impacts from urbanization, deforestation, and agriculture have degraded the riparian margins of waterways worldwide. In New Zealand, such impacts have caused changes in native vegetation, enhanced invasion by exotic grasses, and altered river bank morphology. One consequence has been a great reduction in obligate spawning habitat of a diadromous fish, Galaxias maculatus. Juvenile G. maculatus comprise a culturally important fishery that has been considerably reduced over recent decades. Rehabilitation of riparian vegetation needed for spawning is relatively straightforward, but slow. We hypothesized that artificial spawning habitats could accelerate restoration of fish egg production by creating an environment that would support at least the same density and survival of eggs as non-impacted vegetation. We tested three artificial devices (straw bales, straw tubes, and moss tubes) in degraded and intact sites. Eggs were laid in all of these with numbers and survival usually exceeding that in riparian grasses. Where habitat was degraded, artificial spawning habitats yielded up to 10,000 eggs compared to none in nearby natural spawning habitat. The ground-level environment of artificial habitat was similar to that of intact vegetation in buffering ambient temperature and humidity fluctuations. Crucial properties of the artificial habitats were (1) shelter to provide shade and hold moisture; (2) accessibility to allow adult fish to deposit and fertilize eggs; and (3) robustness to provide reliable surfaces and protection for the eggs during their development. We show that artificial spawning habitats are a viable short-term alternative to rehabilitating spawning habitat while legacy effects abate and riparian vegetation recovers.