Influence of culverts on small stream fish communities in Northwestern Ontario / by Eric K. Berglund.
Berglund, Eric K.
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Stream crossings may alter fish habitat and fragment lotic environments, which could alter fish movement in stream reaches and lead to changes in fish community structure and population dynamics at the local and riverscape level. The potential for point source disturbance impacts by culverts may be analogous to confluences and the hierarchal spatial arrangement of tributary junctions, which are known locations of increased biodiversity. There is currently limited information on habitat fragmentation and the cumulative effects that culverts might have at the local and landscape level on fish communities in northwestern Ontario. Forty-three culvert sites and seven confluence points on small cold water streams were selected across 10 watersheds northeast of Thunder Bay, Ontario to examine fish assemblages and community characteristics above and below culverts and confluence points, to: (1) determine the extent to which culverts block or impede the movement of fish; (2) to evaluate the relationships among patterns and responses of fish assemblages and functional groups to environmental variables and (3) compare the patterns of biological and physical disturbance between culverts and natural stream confluence points. Species richness, abundance, biomass and density were significantly lower below culverts compared to above (p<0.05). Conversely, there was no statistical difference when comparing fish demographics above and below confluence points. On average, there were fewer, but larger brook trout captured above culverts compared to below, suggesting that stronger swimming individuals were able to move through culverts. Although several environmental variables influence fish assemblages, the differences in habitat characteristics above and below culverts were marginal and unlikely to have a major affect in the structuring of fish communities, which suggests that difference in community assemblage above and below were the result of impeded movement. None of the culvert characteristics explained large amounts of variation in fish community above and below culverts. Although marginal, perched culverts and culverts not on stream bottom were most closely associated with differences in fish community above and below culverts. Upstream catchment area appeared to be the single most important environmental variable structuring fish communities across the study area. The results from my study support the hypothesis that culverts limit the movement of certain fish species. However, due to the combination of local and landscape environmental influences, it would be difficult to predict the long term impacts of culverts across multiple scales based on culvert characteristics alone.