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Aquatic Habitat Characterization and Use in Groundwater Verses Surface Runoff Influenced Streams: Brown Trout (Salmo Truttal) and Bullhead (Cottus Gobio)

By Marie-Pierre Gosselin


Riverine physical habitats and habitat utilization by fish have often been studied independently. Varying flows modify habitat composition and connectivity within a stream but its influence on habitat use is not well understood. This study examined brown trout (Salmo trutta) and bullhead (Cottus gobio) utilization of physical habitats that vary with flow in terms of size and type, persistence or uration, and frequency of change from one state to another, by comparing groundwater-dominated sites on the River Tern (Shropshire)with surface runoff-dominated lowland, riffle-pool sites on the Dowles Brook (Worcestershire). Mesohabitat surveys carried out at two-month intervals on a groundwater-dominated stream and on a surface runoff-influenced stream showed differences in habitat composition and diversity between the two types of rivers. The temporal variability in mesohabitat composition was also shown to differ between the two flow regime types. In the groundwater-influenced stream, mesohabitat composition hardly varied between flows whereas in the flashy stream it varied to a great extent with discharge. Habitat suitability\ud curves for brown trout and bullhead were constructed to predict the potential location of the fish according to flow. The resulting prediction maps were tested in the field during fish surveys using direct underwater observation (snorkelling). Under the groundwater-influenced flow regime brown trout displayed a constant pattern of mesohabitat use over flows. Mesohabitats with non-varying characteristics over flows and with permanent features such as large woody debris, macrophytes or any feature providing shelter and food were favoured. Biological processes, such as hierarchy, life cycle and life\ud stage appeared to play a key role in determining fish habitat use and to a greater extent than physical processes in these streams. Bullhead observations in the flashy river showed that mesohabitat use varied with flow but that some mesohabitats were always favoured in the stream. Pools and glides were the most commonly used mesohabitat, due to their stability over flows and their role as shelter\ud from harsh hydraulic conditions and as food retention zones. The presence of cobbles was also found to be determinant in bullhead choice of habitat. In this flashy environment, physical processes such as flow and depth and velocity conditions appeared to be a more\ud decisive factor in bullhead strategy of habitat use than biological processes.\ud This research shows that:\ud 1. Though differences in habitat use strategies between the two flow regimes can in part be attributed to differing ecology between the species, flow variability affects\ud fish behaviour.\ud 2. A stable flow regime allows biological processes to be the main driving force in determining fish behaviour and location. A highly variable environment requires\ud fish to develop behaviour strategies in response to variations in hydraulic conditions, such as depth and velocity, which constitute the key factor in\ud determining fish location.\ud \ud _____________________________________________

Topics: GB, GE, QH301
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