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Advection exacerbates population decline from habitat loss: maintaining threatened taxa while restoring natural river flow regimes

  • Conservation ecology – original research
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Abstract

Modification of flow regimes and habitat degradation are the strongest, most common, and often co-occurring human activities affecting riverine populations. Ongoing efforts to restore peak flow events found under pristine flow regimes could increase advection-driven dispersal for many species. In rivers with extensive habitat loss, increased advection could transport individuals from remnant populations into degraded downstream areas, causing restored flow regimes to decrease persistence of threatened species. To demonstrate such possible ‘washout’ effects across imperiled taxa, we evaluate population growth in spatial models of insect, fish, and mollusc taxa that experience advective dispersal and either long-term habitat loss or temporary drought disturbances. As a case study to quantify advective dispersal in threatened species, we use intensive mark-recapture methods in a Rio Grande population of the endangered mussel Popenaias popeii belonging to the Unionida order, the most threatened faunal taxa worldwide. Our mark-recapture models estimate high levels of annual downstream emigration (16–51%) and immigration from upstream habitats (32–48%) of adult P. popeii, a result consistent with hydrodynamic experiments. Across taxa where such advective dispersal occurs in specific life stages, our population model suggests that washout effects might strongly reduce population recovery under high levels of habitat loss, especially for sessile or shorter lived species. Averting this potential negative consequence of restoring hydrology requires simultaneously restoring or protecting long, contiguous stretches of suitable habitats. In heavily impacted systems, we suggest integrating hydrodynamic studies and field surveys to detect the presence of advective dispersal and prioritize areas for habitat restoration to enhance population persistence.

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Acknowledgements

We thank S. Schreiber, E. Grosholz, B. Lang, D. Berg, E. Cooch, K. Inoue, D. Strayer, M. Baskett, D. Smith, D. Woolnough, K. Jirka, and several anonymous reviewers for feedback that greatly improved the manuscript; D. and S. Barclays, S. Daniel and Laredo Community College students for help in field surveys. This survey was funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (Joint Traditional Section 6 Project no 419446 to L.E.B., A.Y.K., B. Lang and M. May). V.A.K. was supported by an NSF graduate research fellowship during preparation of this manuscript.

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VAK conceived the model and conducted data analyses. VAK and LY analyzed the model. LEB, AYK, and TM conceived and conducted the field study.VAK wrote the manuscript, with input from LEB, AYK, and LY.

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Correspondence to Vadim A. Karatayev.

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Communicated by Donald DeAngelis.

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Karatayev, V.A., Burlakova, L.E., Karatayev, A.Y. et al. Advection exacerbates population decline from habitat loss: maintaining threatened taxa while restoring natural river flow regimes. Oecologia 193, 773–785 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-020-04706-9

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