, Volume 59, Issue 1, pp 11-19

Decline of Native Freshwater Fishes in a Mediterranean Watershed on the Iberian Peninsula: A Quantitative Assessment

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Abstract

We examined changes in the distribution of 9 native and 18 introduced freshwater fishes in the south-eastern Pyrenees watershed, Iberian Peninsula, using data from 1996, 1984–1988 and historical information. This region suffers many modifications to its freshwater ecosystems that are linked to human activity in the Mediterranean regions. Fish communities, stream physical habitat and environmental degradation were assessed at 168 sites from 11 basins in 1996. Seven native species (78%) showed decline from previous data, one of which became extirpated in the first half of the 20th century. On the other hand, introduced species are expanding. As a consequence, intact native communities are increasingly rare, declining from presence in 22% of river courses in 1984–1988 to 15% in 1996. The most typical community type is a mixture of native and introduced species occupying 30% of river courses. Stream degradation seems to be the main cause of this process because fish communities differed between degraded streams and streams suffering less impact. A principal component analysis showed that water pollution and modifications to the habitat were the two anthropogenic factors that accounted for most changes in the fish community integrity. Habitat alteration, primarily through construction of dams and water diversions, has fragmented habitats and isolated native fish communities in headwater streams. Current protection measures do not offer effective conservation of threatened species and communities. A global conservation and restoration programme from an ecosystem-based approach is essential to reverse the trend affecting native freshwater fishes in this Mediterranean region.