Hydrologic filtering of fish life history strategies across the United States: implications for stream flow alteration


  • Corresponding Editor: O. P. Jensen.


Lotic fish have developed life history strategies adapted to the natural variation in stream flow regimes. The natural timing, duration, and magnitude of flow events has contributed to the diversity, production, and composition of fish assemblages over time. Studies evaluating the role of hydrology in structuring fish assemblages have been more common at the local or regional scale with very few studies conducted at the continental scale. Furthermore, quantitative linkages between natural hydrologic patterns and fish assemblages are rarely used to make predictions of ecological consequences of hydrologic alterations. We ask two questions: (1) what is the relative role of hydrology in structuring fish assemblages at large scales? and (2) can relationships between fish assemblages and natural hydrology be utilized to predict fish assemblage responses to hydrologic disturbance? We developed models to relate fish life histories and reproductive strategies to landscape and hydrologic variables separately and then combined. Models were then used to predict the ecological consequences of altered hydrology due to dam regulation. Although hydrology plays a considerable role in structuring fish assemblages, the performance of models using only hydrologic variables was lower than that of models constructed using landscape variables. Isolating the relative importance of hydrology in structuring fish assemblages at the continental scale is difficult since hydrology is interrelated to many landscape factors. By applying models to dam-regulated hydrologic data, we observed some consistent predicted responses in fish life history strategies and modes of reproduction. In agreement with existing literature, equilibrium strategists are predicted to increase following dam regulation, whereas opportunistic and periodic species are predicted to decrease. In addition, dam regulation favors the selection of reproductive strategies with extended spawning seasons and preference for stable conditions.