, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 95-107

The historic influence of dams on diadromous fish habitat with a focus on river herring and hydrologic longitudinal connectivity

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Abstract

The erection of dams alters habitat and longitudinal stream connectivity for migratory diadromous and potamodromous fish species and interrupts much of organismal exchange between freshwater and marine ecosystems. In the US, this disruption began with colonial settlement in the seventeenth century but little quantitative assessment of historical impact on accessible habitat and population size has been conducted. We used published surveys, GIS layers and historical documents to create a database of 1356 dams, which was then analyzed to determine the historical timeline of construction, use and resultant fragmentation of watersheds in Maine, US. Historical information on the anadromous river herring was used to determine natural upstream boundaries to migration and establish total potential alewife spawning habitat in nine watersheds with historic populations. Dams in Maine were constructed beginning in 1634 and by 1850 had reduced accessible lake area to less than 5% of the virgin 892 km2 habitat and 20% of virgin stream habitat. There is a near total loss of accessible habitat by 1860 that followed a west-east pattern of European migration and settlement. Understanding historic trends allows current restoration targets to be assessed and prioritized within an ecosystem-based perspective and may inform expectations for future management of oceanic and freshwater living resources.