Advances in Understanding Landscape Influences on Freshwater Habitats and Biological Assemblages

A New Regionalization Framework to Quantify How Physiography Mediates the Effect of Land Use on Stream Fishes

Jefferson T. Deweber, Logan Sleezer, and Emmanuel A. Frimpong


Abstract.—Surrounding land use and cover can have profound effects on the physical, chemical, and biological properties of stream ecosystems. For this reason, changes in land use and cover throughout catchments often have strong effects on stream ecosystems that are particularly interesting to researchers. Additionally, natural physical and climatic, or physiographic, characteristics are important for determining natural land cover and constraining human land use and are also strongly related to stream habitat and biota. Because the physiographic template differs among catchments and is an important mediator of catchment processes, it is important to account for natural physiographic differences among catchments to understand the relationship between land use/cover and stream biota. In this paper, we develop and assess the usefulness of a regional framework, land use/cover distinguished physiographic regions (LDPRs), which is designed for understanding relationships between land use/cover and stream biota while accounting for the physiographic template. We classified hydrologic units into LDPRs based on physiographic predictors of land use and cover for the eastern and western United States through the use of multivariate regression tree analysis. Next, we used case study data to assess the usefulness of LDPRs by determining if the relationships between fish assemblage function and land use/cover varied among classes using hierarchical logistic regression models. Eight physiographic characteristics determined land cover patterns for both the eastern and western United States and were used to classify hydrologic units into LDPR classes. Five commonly used biotic metrics describing trophic, reproductive, and taxonomic groupings of fish species responded in varying ways to agriculture and urban land use across LDPRs in the upper Mississippi River basin. Our findings suggest that physiographic differences among hydrologic units result in different pathways by which land use and cover affects stream fish assemblages and that LDPRs are useful for stratifying hydrologic units to investigate those different processes. Unlike other commonly used regional frameworks, the rationale and methods used to develop LDPRs properly account for the often-confounded relationship between physiography and land use/cover when relating land cover to stream biota. Therefore, we recommend the use and refinement of LDPRs or similarly developed regional frameworks so that the varying processes by which human land use results in stream degradation can be better understood.