, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 255-266

Impacts of Urbanization on Stream Habitat and Fish Across Multiple Spatial Scales

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We analyzed the relation of the amount and spatial pattern of land cover with stream fish communities, in-stream habitat, and baseflow in 47 small southeastern Wisconsin, USA, watersheds encompassing a gradient of predominantly agricultural to predominantly urban land uses. The amount of connected impervious surface in the watershed was the best measure of urbanization for predicting fish density, species richness, diversity, and index of biotic integrity (IBI) score; bank erosion; and base flow. However, connected imperviousness was not significantly correlated with overall habitat quality for fish. Nonlinear models were developed using quantile regression to predict the maximum possible number of fish species, IBI score, and base flow for a given level of imperviousness. At watershed connected imperviousness levels less than about 8%, all three variables could have high values, whereas at connected imperviousness levels greater than 12% their values were inevitably low. Connected imperviousness levels between 8 and 12% represented a threshold region where minor changes in urbanization could result in major changes in stream condition. In a spatial analysis, connected imperviousness within a 50-m buffer along the stream or within a 1.6-km radius upstream of the sampling site had more influence on stream fish and base flow than did comparable amounts of imperviousness further away. Our results suggest that urban development that minimizes amount of connected impervious surface and establishes undeveloped buffer areas along streams should have less impact than conventional types of development.