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Evaluating changes in stream fish species richness over a 50-year time-period within a landscape context


Worldwide, streams and rivers are facing a suite of pressures that alter water quality and degrade physical habitat, both of which can lead to changes in the composition and richness of fish populations. These potential changes are of particular importance in the Southeast USA, home to one of the richest stream fish assemblages in North America. Using data from 83 stream sites in North Carolina sampled in the 1960’s and the past decade, we used hierarchical Bayesian models to evaluate relationships between species richness and catchment land use and land cover (e.g., agriculture and forest cover). In addition, we examined how the rate of change in species richness over 50 years was related to catchment land use and land cover. We found a negative and positive correlation between forest land cover and agricultural land use and average species richness, respectively. After controlling for introduced species, most (66 %) stream sites showed an increase in native fish species richness, and the magnitude of the rate of increase was positively correlated to the amount of forested land cover in the catchment. Site-specific trends in species richness were not positive, on average, until the percentage forest cover in the network catchment exceeded about 55 %. These results suggest that streams with catchments that have moderate to high (>55 %) levels of forested land in upstream network catchments may be better able to increase the number of native species at a faster rate compared to less-forested catchments.

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We thank Dana Infante and her lab at Michigan State University for preparing the land use data. The authors would like to thank the Staff of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Water Resources, for assisting B.H. Tracy in the collection of the fish community data. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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Correspondence to Stephen R. Midway.

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Midway, S.R., Wagner, T., Tracy, B.H. et al. Evaluating changes in stream fish species richness over a 50-year time-period within a landscape context. Environ Biol Fish 98, 1295–1309 (2015).

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  • Stream fish
  • Species richness
  • Hierarchical Bayesian
  • Land use
  • Forest cover