Influence of streamflow regime and biotic interactions on fish assemblage structure in rivers of the northern Great Plains Public Deposited


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  • This study evaluates the functional organization of stream fish assemblages in response to streamflow factors and biotic interactions across a range of spatial scale. The study area for this project includes 109 stream reaches located on tributaries to the upper Missouri River in the northern Great Plains. Fish distribution data was provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program. The analysis examined assemblage structure in terms of the distribution of ecological traits along gradients of streamflow regime, and proceeded in several phases. First, a methodology was assembled for estimating ecologically relevant metrics to describe streamflow regime where streamflow data were not available. Second, co-occurrence patterns for species and their traits were examined at two levels of spatial scale in order to evaluate the relative role of environmental filtering and competitive exclusion. Third, a structural equation analysis was conducted to examine the role of specific components of streamflow regime as constraints on the expression of fish life-history strategies within local assemblages, including an evaluation of factors across a range of scale that were associated with flow patterns. This analysis also incorporated an aggregate measure of the potential for biotic interactions at the assemblage scale. Results for the streamflow analysis describe distinctive regional patterns of flow regime across the study area. A clear snowmelt signature was observed for streams in the western mountains, with little variability in peak-flow magnitude or timing. These streams contrast with those in the lowlands further east, which were consistently characterized by greater variability in peak-flow timing and magnitude as well as higher probability of intermittent flow. Species co-occurrence patterns were consistent with a strong tendency for local coexistence to be mediated primarily by present or past competition, resulting in spatial segregation of species when they share similar feeding strategies. At the regional scale, a contrasting pattern was observed where species with similar life-history traits tended to cluster together. These results indicate that critical niche dimensions may be defined at several levels of scale. Furthermore, these dimensions apparently are associated with ecological processes that can oppose one another across scale. Finally, SEM results indicate that small, short-lived opportunistic species were significantly influenced by regional patterns of streamflow variability while large, long-lived periodic species responded more strongly to variability at the smaller scale of the stream network. On the other hand, species with strategies to maximize juvenile survival (i.e. equilibrium strategists) showed negligible response to flow variability at any scale. These results presumably reflect the versatility of this strategy regarding physical habitat conditions. This research demonstrates that stream fish assemblages are structured at multiple levels of spatial scale by biotic interactions as well as characteristic responses of life-history strategies to streamflow variability.
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