Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Alaska
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Abernethy, E.F., J.D. Muehlbauer, T.A. Kennedy, J.D. Tonkin, R. Van Driesche and D.A. Lytle. 2021. Hydropeaking intensity and dam proximity limit aquatic invertebrate diversity in the Colorado River Basin. Ecosphere 12: e03559, 1-12.


River biodiversity is threatened globally by hydropower dams, and there is a need to understand how dam management favors certain species while filtering out others. We examined aquatic invertebrate communities within the tailwaters 0–24 km downstream of seven large hydropower dams in the Colorado River Basin of the western United States. We quantified aquatic invertebrate dominance, richness, abundance, and biomass at multiple locations within individual tailwaters and across the basin and identified biological community responses associated with dam operations and distance from dam. We found that each tailwater was dominated by 3–7 invertebrate taxa, accounting for 95% of total abundance. Half of these dominant taxa were non-insect, non-flying species and thus were unavailable to terrestrial consumers. Consistent with previous studies, aquatic insects and sensitive taxa were negatively associated with hydropeaking intensity (magnitude of daily flow fluctuations associated with hydropower generation), which limits the composition and potentially the quality of the invertebrate food base. While total invertebrate abundance and biomass did not change with increasing distance downstream from dams, insect and sensitive taxa richness, abundance, and biomass all increased, suggesting that impacts of hydropeaking are most acute immediately downstream of dams. Our results demonstrate that tailwaters experiencing hydropeaking support high abundances of aquatic invertebrate, but the diversity of these communities is low.