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

Nagy, A. J., M. C. Freeman, B. J. Irwin, and S. J. Wenger. 2024. Life history connections to long-term fish population trends in a species-rich temperate river. Ecology of Freshwater Fish.


Fish exhibit a diverse range of traits encompassing life history strategies, feeding behaviors, and spawning behaviors. These traits mediate fish population responses to changing environmental conditions such as those caused by anthropogenic stressors. The Conasauga River, located in northwestern Georgia and southeastern Tennessee, USA, hosts a diverse assemblage of over 75 species of freshwater fish, some of which are locally or regionally endemic, and many of which are imperiled. Annual monitoring data have shown population declines in multiple fish species of conservation concern in the Conasauga River since at least the 1990s, raising the possibility that other taxa could be declining as well. We quantified temporal change in fish communities at six shoal sites sampled annually in most years from 1996 to 2022, and asked whether species traits hypothesized to underlie population vulnerability to environmental alteration were correlated with species-specific trends for 32 taxa. We estimated that total counts of fish in annual samples declined by ~ 2% per year, although declines were uneven among species and generally greater for less abundant taxa. Tests for species traits corresponding to temporal population trends provided evidence that crevice-spawning minnows and smaller-bodied taxa had steeper declines compared with broadcast spawners and larger, longer-lived, more fecund taxa. Lower abundance, reliance on a particular habitat feature, and life-history traits that may limit population resilience to disturbance may all prove useful for identifying riverine fishes at particular risk of future population decline.