Dispersal limitations on fish community recovery following long-term water quality remediation
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In-stream barriers may impose constraints on the ecological effectiveness of restoration strategies by limiting colonization. We assessed the importance of dispersal limitations to fish community recovery following long-term pollution abatement, water quality remediation, and species introductions within the White Oak Creek watershed near Oak Ridge, Tennessee (USA). Long-term (26 years) responses in fish species richness, biomass, and community composition to water quality remediation were evaluated in light of physical barriers (culverts and weirs). We found that barriers to dispersal were potentially limiting fish community recovery by preventing colonization by introduced species and seasonal migrants. Changes in richness were negatively related to barrier index, a measure of the degree of isolation by barriers. Following introductions, upstream passage for six fish species above non-passable barriers was not observed. Highly isolated sites were dominated by a few equilibrium species, whereas less isolated sites showed more variation in life history strategies with increasing periodic and opportunistic strategists. The importance of barriers on community dynamics decreased over time—an indication of increasing community stability, homogenization of fauna, and improved water quality. However, isolating the role of dispersal limitation was complicated by multiple interacting stressors, such as the compounding effects of barriers and pervasive water quality conditions.
KeywordsStream fragmentation Restoration ecology Culvert Fish passage Habitat patches Connectivity
This research was sponsored by the ORNL Environmental Protection Services Division’s Water Quality Programs. This paper has been authored by employees of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, managed by UT-Battelle, LLC, under contract DE-AC05-00OR22725 with the U.S. Department of Energy. Accordingly, the United States Government retains and the publisher, by accepting the article for publication, acknowledges that the United States Government retains a non-exclusive, paid-up, irrevocable, world-wide license to publish or reproduce the published form of this manuscript, or allow others to do so, for the United States Government’s purposes. The Department of Energy will provide public access to these results of federally sponsored research in accordance with the DOE Public Access Plan (http://energy.gov/downloads/doe-public-access-plan). Special thanks to John Smith and two anonymous reviewers for providing comments and editorial suggestions that improved this manuscript. We are also grateful to Diedre Tharpe for providing access to surface water monitoring data.
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