Flow-induced alterations to fish assemblages, habitat and fish–habitat associations in a regulated lowland river
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Understanding the cause–effect response of aquatic biota to hydrological variability is fundamental to the restoration of regulated rivers. Spatio-temporal variation in fish assemblage structure, microhabitat cover and fish–habitat associations were investigated in the main channel of the regulated lower River Murray, Australia, during a prolonged period of low within-channel flows and following a high flow event and flood. Several small-bodied species (e.g. carp gudgeon, Hypseleotris spp.), were abundant and significantly associated with submerged macrophytes during low flows, but were absent or significantly less abundant following flooding, and the loss of these microhabitats. Large-bodied riverine species that spawn in response to increases in flow (e.g. golden perch, Macquaria ambigua ambigua) or spawn and recruit in inundated floodplain habitats (e.g. common carp, Cyprinus carpio), exhibited flexible microhabitat use and were significantly more abundant following flooding. In the lower River Murray, high flow events appear integral in structuring fish assemblages, indirectly influencing the abundance of small-bodied fish by re-structuring macrophyte cover and directly influencing the abundance of large-bodied species by facilitating critical life history processes (e.g. recruitment). These results highlight species-specific differences in cause–effect responses to flow variability and have implications for managing flow in regulated rivers.