Landscape Influences on Stream Habitats and Biological Assemblages

Relative Influence of Environmental Variables at Multiple Spatial Scales on Fishes in Wisconsin’s Warmwater Nonwadeable Rivers

Brian M. Weigel, John Lyons, Paul W. Rasmussen, and Lizhu Wang

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569766.ch24

Abstract.—We analyzed data from 38 sites on 31 large rivers in Wisconsin to characterize the influence of environmental variables at the basin, reach, and site scales on fish assemblages. Electrofishing and site habitat data were collected for a distance of 1.6 km per site. Environmental variables included conductivity, substrate, and fish cover at the site scale; distance to impoundments, dams, and length of riverine habitat at the reach scale; and land cover, climate, and geology at the basin scale. Of the 77 fish species found, 39 occurred in more than 10% of the sites and were retained for analyses of fish abundance and biomass. Redundancy analysis (RDA) was used to relate species abundance, biomass, and 16 assemblage metrics to environmental variables at the three spatial scales. The site and basin scales defined fishes along a gradient from high conductivity, fine substrate, and agricultural land cover to low conductivity, rocky substrate, and forested land cover. For abundance and biomass, the strongest assemblage pattern contrasted northern hog sucker Hypentelium nigricans, blackside darter Percina maculata, and logperch P. caprodes with common carp Cyprinus carpio, channel catfish Ictalurus punctatus, and sauger Sander canadensis. The H. nigricans group, along with high values of index of biotic integrity and some assemblage metrics (percent lithophilic spawners, percent round-bodied suckers), corresponded with the forested end of the ecological gradient, whereas the C. carpio group and percent anomalies corresponded with the agricultural end. Natural environmental conditions, including bedrock geology type, bedrock depth, surficial geology texture, basin area, and precipitation, also influenced the fish assemblage. Partial RDA procedures partitioned the explained variation among spatial scales and their interactions. We found that widespread land cover alterations at the basin scale were most strongly related to fish assemblages across our study area. Understanding the influence of environmental variables among multiple spatial scales on fish assemblages can improve our ability to assess the ecological condition of large river systems and subsequently target the appropriate scale for management or restoration efforts.