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

Besson, J.C., J. Neary, J.D. Stafford, C.G. Dunn, L.E. Miranda. 2023. Fish functional gradients along a reservoir cascade. Freshwater Biology 68:1079-1091. DOI: 10.1111/fwb.14087


The transformations caused by reservoir cascades can be severe at the reach scale, but basin-wide scale effects are less clear, although the River Continuum Concept provides a framework for predicting basin-scale effects. To determine if predictions made by the River Continuum Concept relative to the function of fish assemblages are sustained in a temperate river transformed into a reservoir cascade, we examined longitudinal trends in the distribution of traits over 23 reservoirs of the Tennessee River, USA. In all, 115 species were recorded representing 56 traits, with trait richness increasing longitudinally in a downstream direction. Trophic, reproductive, and habitat traits showed various increasing and decreasing patterns up and down the reservoir cascade. The observed gradients in trait richness and trait distributions were generally consistent with those expected in unregulated rivers, with few unexpected results. The transformation of lotic systems into lentic ones has changed habitats and sources of food and encouraged the proliferation of certain feeding (e.g., detritivores, planktivores, invertivores, piscivores), reproduction (e.g., nest spawners polyphils, broadcast spawners phytolithophils), and habitat (slow current, lacustrine, large river) traits. In essence, reservoirs have expanded downstream habitats in an upstream direction, and thus allowed upstream expansion of species and traits that would have normally not been well represented in upper reaches of the Tennessee River basin. Nevertheless, the impounded Tennessee River has maintained much of its functional integrity, despite extensive alterations to the riverscape. We suggest that while reservoirs have been shown to have major local-scale effects on riverine fish assemblages, with access to riverine habitats, and with proactive conservation strategies, fish functional richness can remain remarkably high at the basin scale.