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Size and quantity of woody debris affects fish assemblages in a sediment-disturbed lowland river

Howson, T.J., Robson, B.J., Matthews, T.G. and Mitchell, B.D. (2012) Size and quantity of woody debris affects fish assemblages in a sediment-disturbed lowland river. Ecological Engineering, 40 . pp. 144-152.

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Responses by fish assemblages to individual restoration actions among a suite of channel modifications are not well understood. We investigated whether increasing woody debris abundance, without significant change to channel morphology, would increase native fish abundance and species richness in a sediment-disturbed river channel (Glenelg River, Victoria, Australia). We conducted a Before-After, Control-Impact design experiment at twelve locations containing either a high (n = 6) or low (n 6) quantity of large woody debris (LWD). We added small woody debris (SWD) to half (n = 6: 3 high, 3 low LWD densities) of the locations to increase woody debris complexity without the impacts on channel morphology associated with LWD manipulations. Fish species richness and abundance was quantified using electrofishing surveys before (4 sampling trips) and after (3 sampling trips) SWD addition. Fish species richness was not associated with high or low quantities of LWD or with types of woody debris (LWD or SWD). Addition of SWD altered fish assemblage composition but the effect depended on LWD quantity. SWD additions to locations with low LWD quantities increased abundance of two, wood-affiliated species: Philypnodon grandiceps and Gadopsis marmoratus. SWD additions to locations with high LWD quantities increased abundance of P. grandiceps and Gataxias olidus. Fish body size was important in detecting a response to added SWD because for two species, only certain size classes responded: adults of P. grandiceps (>50 mm TL) and juveniles of G. marmoratus (<123 mm TL). Fish assemblages responded positively to increased density of SWD through local increases in abundance, despite channel sedimentation. Unlike LWD, SWD is relatively cheap to place in rivers because it does not require heavy machinery and can be obtained without tree mortality. The use of SWD to assist in habitat restoration, especially for small species of native fish and juvenile fish, should be considered as a strategy in river restoration.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Environmental Science
Publisher: Elsevier B.V.
Copyright: 2012 Published by Elsevier B.V.
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