Prioritization of fish assemblages with a view to conservation and restoration on a large scale European basin, the Loire (France)
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The hierarchical organization of important sites for the conservation or the restoration of fish communities is a great challenge for managers, especially because of financial or time constraints. In this perspective, we developed a methodology, which is easy to implement in different locations. Based on the fish assemblage characteristics of the Loire basin (France), we created a synthetic conservation value index including the rarity, the conservation status and the species origin. The relationship between this new synthetic index and the Fish-Based Index allowed us to establish a classification protocol of the sites along the Loire including fish assemblages to be restored or conserved. Sites presenting disturbed fish assemblages, a low rarity index, few threatened species, and a high proportion of non-native species were considered as important for the restoration of fish biodiversity. These sites were found mainly in areas where the assemblages are typical of the bream zone, e.g. with a higher number of eurytopic and limnophilic species. On the contrary, important sites for conservation were defined as having an important conservation potential (high RI, a lot of threatened species, and few non-natives fish species) and an undisturbed fish assemblage similar to the expected community if habitats are undisturbed. Important sites for conservation were found in the Loire basin’s medium reaches which host assemblages typical for the grayling and the barbell zones, e.g. with a higher number of rheophilic species. The synthetic conservation value index could be adapted and completed with other criteria according to management priorities and capacities.