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

Intercontinental Comparison of Fish Life History Strategies along a Gradient of Hydrologic Variability

Julian D. Olden and Mark J. Kennard


Abstract.—The flow regime is considered the primary driver of physical processes in riverine ecosystems; thus we expect that the trait composition of fish assemblages might respond similarly to hydrologic variability, even at broad spatial scales. Here, we test the hypothesis that freshwater fish life history strategies on two continents (southern United States and eastern Australia) converge along gradients of hydrologic variability and primary productivity at the drainage scale. Our results show that the fishes of the United States and Australia conform to the three-dimensional adaptive space arising from the trade-offs among three basic demographic parameters of survival, fecundity, and onset and duration of reproductive life. Species from both continents represent the endpoints in adaptive space defining the periodic (19% versus 33% for the United States and Australia, respectively), opportunistic (69% versus 52%), and equilibrium life history strategies (12% versus 15%). We found evidence that fish life history composition of drainage basins in the two continents have converged across similar gradients of hydrologic variability and productivity despite phylogenetic and historical differences. Moreover, these relationships were largely consistent with predictions from life history theory. Increasing hydrologic variability has promoted the greater prevalence of opportunistic strategists (a strategy that should maximize fitness in environmental settings dominated by unpredictable environmental change) while concurrently minimizing the persistence of periodic-type species (a strategy typically inhabits seasonal, periodically suitable environments). Our study provides a conceptual framework of management options for species in regulated rivers because life history strategies are the underlying determinants for population responses to environmental change and therefore can be used to classify typical population responses to flow alteration or mitigation via environmental flow prescriptions.