, Volume 809, Issue 1, pp 155–173 | Cite as

Spatial organisation of fish communities in the St. Lawrence River: a test for longitudinal gradients and spatial heterogeneities in a large river system

  • Aline Foubert
  • Frédéric Lecomte
  • Pierre Legendre
  • Mathieu Cusson
Primary Research Paper


Typified by heterogeneous habitats, large rivers host diversified communities throughout their course. As the spatial organisation of fish communities within these ecosystems remains little studied, longitudinal gradients and spatial heterogeneities of fish diversity were analysed in the large temperate St. Lawrence River, Canada. We used two distinct datasets obtained from either seine nets or gillnets from governmental standardised fish surveys (1995–2012) consisting of a total of 299,662 individuals from 76 fish species captured in 1,051 sites. Results from diversity indices and multivariate analysis revealed a gradual downstream increase in taxonomic diversity, and a gradual change of the community structure along the river. In addition, we observed different fish communities within fluvial lakes and corridors and found significant differences in fish community structure between opposite shores. The fish communities described along the river using seine nets are spatially more heterogeneous than when described using gillnets. This discrepancy is likely resulting both from the more mobile species targeted by gillnets and sampling sites located farther from the shallower shoreline habitat targeted by seine nets. The organisation of fish communities stresses the need to implement science-based policies and actions to preserve biodiversity and restore communities distributed over large heterogeneous ecosystems.


Fish diversity Discontinuities Multiscale Riverscape Seine nets Gillnets 



This study would have been impossible without the contribution and dedication of all biologists and wildlife technicians involved over the past 21 years in collecting, analysing, and managing the RSI database. A special thanks to Rachel Pagé for her contribution in the database validation. Drs. J.J. Dodson and M. Mingelbier comments on this MS were much appreciated. We are grateful to the editorial board and two anonymous reviewers who provided very constructive comments on the original MS. This study is part of A.F.’s Ph.D. thesis. Financial support was provided by grants from the “Chaire de Recherche sur les Espèces Aquatiques Exploitées” (CREAE), from the present Ministère de la Faune, des Forêts et des Parcs du Québec, from the Plan d’Action Saint-Laurent, from the “Ressources Aquatiques Québec” (RAQ) and from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC; Discovery Grants) to M.C.

Supplementary material

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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Département des sciences fondamentalesUniversité du Québec à ChicoutimiChicoutimiCanada
  2. 2.Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs, Direction de l’Expertise sur la faune aquatiqueQuébecCanada
  3. 3.Département de sciences biologiquesUniversité de MontréalMontréalCanada

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