A quarter century of change in the fish communities of three small streams modified by anthropogenic activities

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Abstract

Anthropogenic modification of small stream habitats insouthern Ontario has occurred with little concern forindigenous, non-game fish communities. The combinedeffects of urbanization, impoundment, and agricultureon the fish communities of three small streams, fromheadwaters to near-confluence locations, wereevaluated by comparing current fish communitystructure to historical records (species lists)collected over the last quarter century. Comparisonsusing cluster analysis showed that spatial andtemporal shifts in fish community composition did notoccur immediately after stream modifications but tookup to 10 years. Replacement of common species byformerly rare or absent species was evident in twostreams subjected to urbanization and impoundment;stream sections subjected to primarily agriculture land usedemonstrated minimal change during this study period. Urban zones and sections downstream of impoundmentswere dominated by species tolerant of controlledflows, siltation, channelization, homogenous spawningsubstrates, and elevated temperatures. Barrier-freeheadwater and agriculture zones with abundant riparianvegetation supported communities that were intolerantof controlled flows, dependent on lower summer watertemperatures, and require high dissolved oxygenlevels. Greater understanding of the causative forcesshaping fish communities can be used to facilitateintegration of greater biological realism into anyfuture conservation or restoration programs inanthropogenically-modified streams.