Ecological impacts of small hydropower plants on headwater stream fish: from individual to community effects

  • Benejam L
  • Saura-Mas S
  • Bardina M
 et al. 
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Hydroelectricity is increasingly used worldwide as a source of renewable
energy, and many mountain ranges have dozens or hundreds of hydropower
plants, with many more being under construction or planned. Although the
ecological impacts of large dams are relatively well known, the effects
of small hydropower plants and their weirs have been much less
investigated. We studied the effects of water diversion of small
hydropower plants on fish assemblages in the upper Ter river basin
(Catalonia, NE Spain), which has headwater reaches with good water
quality and no large dams but many of such plants. We studied fish
populations and habitat features on control and impacted reaches for
water diversion of 16 hydropower plants. In the impacted reaches, there
was a significantly lower presence of refuges for fish, poorer habitat
quality, more pools and less riffles and macrophytes, and shallower
water levels. We also observed higher fish abundance, larger mean fish
size and better fish condition in the control than in impacted reaches,
although the results were species-specific. Accordingly, species
composition was also affected, with lower relative abundance of brown
trout (Salmo trutta) and Pyrenean minnow (Phoxinus bigerri) in the
impacted reaches and higher presence of stone loach (Barbatula
quignardi) and Mediterranean barbel (Barbus meridionalis). Our study
highlights the effects of water diversion of small hydropower plants
from the individual to the population and community levels but probably
underestimates them, urging for further assessment and mitigation of
these ecological impacts.

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  • Lluis Benejam

  • Sandra Saura-Mas

  • Monica Bardina

  • Carolina Sola

  • Antoni Munne

  • Emili Garcia-Berthou

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