Effect of habitat fragmentation on spawning migration of brown trout (Salmo trutta L.)

  • Gosset C
  • Rives J
  • Labonne J
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Abstract –  Human-induced habitat alteration is one of the main causes of the decline of freshwater fish populations. The watershed of the River Bidasoa (Spain) is an example of heavily fragmented habitat. The local brown trout (Salmo trutta L.) population is disturbed, with evidence of poor recruitment as well as low adult densities in the main stem. Forty male and female adult migratory trout were tagged with external or internal radio transmitters and released. Fixed stations with data loggers and mobile antennae were used with daily surveys to track fish movements during the migration and spawning period (3 months). Migration distances did not exceed 10 km, and half of the fish never entered a tributary in the study area. Fragmentation because of weirs on the main stem apparently prevented fish from reaching their spawning destination. Fish that entered the tributaries were first confronted with an accessibility problem because of low discharge. However, each fish chose one tributary, without making attempts to run up in other tributaries. Once in the tributary, fish were restrained in their upstream movements by dams. The study area appeared to be isolated from the vast upper part of the watershed. Within the study area, upper parts of tributaries also seemed strongly disconnected from the main stem. This study illustrates the negative impact of river fragmentation on S. trutta migration pattern. Population sustainability can be directly affected through the low availability of spawning grounds for migratory fish. Long-term effects of fragmentation may cause reproductive isolation within watersheds, which in the case of trout also means isolated phenotypic population units.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Dam
  • Fish movements
  • Fish tagging
  • Radio-tracking

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  • C. Gosset

  • J. Rives

  • J. Labonne

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