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Long-term change to fish assemblages and the flow regime in a southeastern U.S. river system after extensive aquatic ecosystem fragmentation

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The upper Tombigbee River in northeastern Mississippi now exists as a fragment, confluencing with and fed by an extensively modified aquatic landscape now called the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (TTW). We examined the changes to fish assemblages and flow regime after waterway construction based on contemporary comparisons to historical fish collections and discharge data. The river's flow regime has changed markedly since TTW construction. Analysis of discharge data from two stations for 15 years, pre- and post-waterway, indicated significant differences in flow regime including increased minimum and base flows, lower spring and higher late summer-autumn flows, and lower high flow durations, post-TTW. These changes corresponded to significantly reduced regional and local species richness, and strong shifts in fish assemblage structure across a 20 yr time span. Post-waterway fish assemblages were related strongly to measured environmental variables characterizing local habitats. Several lentic-adapted species increased their abundances in lower reaches of the river, including a recent invader to the TTW system, the Mississippi silverside Menidia audens. Fragmentation of river ecosystems via disruption to hydrologic regimes is a major threat to aquatic biodiversity worldwide. Because the flow regime of this fragmented river is in part controlled by waterway operations via five minimum flow control structures, adaptive conservation and management efforts could be implemented in order to maintain and potentially restore the natural flow regime and the ecological integrity of the system.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2008

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