, Volume 55, Issue 3, pp 245-254

The Importance of Ecoregion Versus Drainage Area on Fish Distributions in the St. Croix River and its Wisconsin Tributaries

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Aquatic ecoregions, based on regional landscape features, have been proposed as a model for aquatic resource management. The model assumes the existence of a typical biota associated with a given ecoregion and serves as the basis for biological assessment, reference site designation, and determination of stream potential, based on this biotic assemblage. Contrasting models for predicting stream ecosystem structure focus on the importance of local site conditions, including the regular and predictable changes that occur as a function of area draining to a site. In this study, a classification of 429 stream sites over an area of approximately 20 000 km2 in the St. Croix River basin delineated three major species groups: redhorse/spotfin shiner; brook charr/sculpin; and mixed species. Numerical analyses revealed no relationship between the species communities and ecoregions. In contrast, there was a strong association between the species communities and the area draining to the site. Our study highlights the importance of accommodating the inherent structure associated with site drainage area when imposing a regionally-based ecological classification upon stream ecosystems. This structure is expressed in the systematic changes to the physical habitat that occur with increasing drainage area and are reflected by the species community at the site. Management models that currently incorporate ecoregions in the classification or prediction of stream ecosystem structure would benefit from the inclusion of specific components that incorporate drainage area measurements.

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