Community Ecology of Stream Fishes: Concepts, Approaches, and Techniques

Incorporating Environmental Variation into Models of Community Stability: Examples from Stream Fish

Gary D. Grossman and John L. Sabo


Abstract.—Stochastic dynamics are central to theory, data analysis, and understanding in the fields of hydrology and population ecology. More importantly, hydrologic variability has been identified as a key process affecting biodiversity and coexistence in stream fish assemblages. Until recently, however, we have lacked tools by which hydrologic variability can be directly linked to measures of community stability. Herein, we show how a modification of Fourier analysis of daily average discharge data can be used to quantify aspects of hydrologic variability for three reference streams and then linked to measures of fish assemblage stability in Coweeta Creek, North Carolina; Sagehen Creek, California; and Otter Creek, Indiana) via multivariate autoregressive (MAR) models. Specifically, we define the magnitude of catastrophic variability as the standard deviation of residual flows referenced to a long-term annual trend, and individual catastrophic events as flows greater than (floods) or less than (droughts) two times this magnitude (i.e., 2 𝛔). We then directly link the magnitude of annual residual flows with MAR models that quantify the relationship between flows and the stability of fish assemblages from the same or nearby streams. Our results confirm that these streams represent a gradient in the stability properties of fish assemblages; Sagehen Creek is the most stable, whereas Otter Creek is the least stable. The timing of catastrophic high and low flows is most predictable in Sagehen Creek and least predictable in Big Raccon Creek (reference stream for Otter Creek), whereas the magnitude and frequency of catastrophic events varied in a manner less consistent with the gradient in fish community stability. Nevertheless, the stability of fish communities covaried significantly with both residual flow magnitudes (high- and low-flow events). Although this technique is not without limitations (e.g., it is most relevant to resident species), it appears to be a promising new tool for linking hydrologic variability directly to fish assemblage stability and, more broadly, for quantifying links between flow regulation and the viability of native aquatic faunas.