Increasing multi-sectoral demands on water resources have led to water abstraction and transfer activities, and the construction of dams and embankments that have significantly altered the flood regimes of rivers throughout the world resulting in the loss of fish production and biodiversity. The current emphasis on sustainable development and biodiversity conservation is leading efforts to mitigate these impacts by means of interventions such as the release of artificial floods downstream of dams and the manipulation of water levels within impounded floodplains. Whilst much work has been done to determine the hydrological requirements for the maintenance of salmonid populations, few equivalent studies are available from which to develop criteria for the management of hydrological regimes for fishes and fisheries in large floodplain-river systems such as the Mekong. The population dynamics of fish in such rivers are believed to respond to hydrological conditions in a density-dependent manner. An age-structured population dynamics model incorporating sub-models describing density-dependent growth, mortality and recruitment was used to explore how hydrological conditions within a theoretical floodplain-river system affect the dynamics of a common floodplain-river fish species. Graphical summaries of the response of exploitable biomass to a range of different drawdown rates, dry and flood season areas and volumes, and flood season durations are presented under five different model assumptions concerning density-dependent processes. Optimal flooding patterns are also described for the model species and theoretical river system. The patterns of predictions that emerge from the simulations provide guidelines for managing or manipulating hydrological conditions in river systems for both fixed and variable volume hydrological scenarios. As a general rule of thumb, exploitable biomass is maximized by minimizing the rate of drawdown and maximizing the flood duration and flood and dry season areas or volumes. However, experiences from dam and other hydraulic engineering projects suggest that these predictions should be treated with caution until we better understand the influence of hydrology on spawning behaviour, system primary production, and critical habitat availability. Copyright (C) 2004 John Wiley Sons, Ltd.
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