Effects of Environmental Factors, Physical Barriers and Season on the Fish Community Composition of the Lower Ottawa and Mississippi River Systems as Determined from Quantitative Electrofishing
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Environmental and physical conditions are considered primary drivers of fish community assemblages. The anthropogenic alteration of aquatic ecosystems is implicated as a primary threat to fisheries worldwide. In riverine ecosystems, river-wide barriers may alter natural fluvial processes and hinder fish movement through the system. In this study, I use data collected from two successive years (2008 and 2009) of intensive quantitative electrofishing Casselman and Marcogliese (2008, 2009) performed in different seasons (late fall and late summer) on the lower Ottawa and Mississippi River systems, Ontario, to investigate the effects of sampling season, distance from the river mouth, water temperature, conductivity, rank of velocity and dams on fish abundance, species richness and the Shannon-Weiner Index (SWI) as a measure of species diversity. Sampling in late summer, compared with late fall, resulted in greater species richness and diversity. Colder water temperature affected community composition, and species richness decreased upstream, while diversity did not change. In both seasons, the distance from the river mouth influenced fish community composition, whereas dams appeared to have no effect. This suggests that the continuous gradient model of the River Continuum Concept (RCC) would be applicable in these fragmented systems, which are not heavily altered by fractionation. To effectively manage cost and accuracy when collecting fish community data in large rivers, it is essential to sample strategically during seasons likely to maximize diversity and richness. Sampling intensively during warm water months in various river reaches would likely provide the most complete representation of fish assemblage.