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Developing and Testing a Spatially-Explicit, Science-Based, Decision-Support Tool for Making Riverscape-Scale Management Decisions: How Dams Affect Fish Communities in the Neosho River, KS

Jane Fencl, M.S. Student
Sean Hitchman, Ph.D. Student
Dr. Joe Smith
Dr. Katie Costigan
Dr. Martha Mather
Jason Luginbill, KDWPT

Project Supervisor
Dr. Martha Mather

February 2017
Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism
Neosho River, Kansas
Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism
Kansas State University
Develop and test a spatially-explicit, decision-support tool for managing human impacts in stream and river networks
Quantify how dams and scale affect fish communities
Identify the role of heterogeneity in stream networks

Progress and Results
The valued native fish communities that inhabit Kansas streams and rivers are threatened by human impacts, such as dams, that fragment the riverscape. To assist managers making science-based decisions on the impact of dams on native fish communities, the Neosho River research team (Jane Fencl, M.S. student; Sean Hitchman, Ph.D.; Dr. Joseph Smith, post-doctoral fellow; Dr. Katie Costigan, post-doctoral fellow; and Dr. Martha Mather, Principal Investigator) are sampling fish communities and instream habitat at sites within the upper Neosho River, Kansas, that have low-head dams (as well as at undammed control sites). Ultimately, this research can be used to develop and test a spatially-explicit, science-based decision support tool for managing fish and dams in Great Plains stream and river networks.

In consultation with our project liaisons at Kansas Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (KDWPT), most of our efforts over the last two years have been focused on the collection of fish and habitat data at sites with dams and undammed control sites. We have identified the best gear to use to sample fish upstream and downstream of dammed and undammed sites. Our gear test showed that the mini-Missouri trawl caught as many species as other common stream sampling gears and more individuals than other gears. Once we determined that the mini-Missouri trawl performed as well as other gears, we conducted a trawl length experiment to determine the optimal trawl length. These results have been incorporated into our standardized sampling protocols.

In 2012, we sampled three dams and one undammed control. Fish and habitat were sampled at 20 transects above and below all dams (or the site centerline of the undammed location). In 2013, we expanded the number of sample sites from 4 to 11 (six dams, 5 undammed controls) and extended the distances we sampled at each site to include 22 transects which extended 3 km above and below each dam (or undammed site centerline).

How Dams Alter Fish Communities (Jane Fencl)

Dams fragment ecological, hydrological, and geomorphological aspects of connectivity, which are fundamental characteristics of riverine ecosystems. Of the over 2,770 peer-reviewed papers on dams and fish, only about 6% target low-head dams (<6 m) even though these small dams are the most common type of instream barrier. To increase scientific knowledge about the geomorphic and ecological impacts of these ubiquitous low-head dams, we quantified the geomorphic and ecological extent of the dam footprint at multiple low-head dams within the Neosho River, Kansas.

In 2012, overall, we collected 37 fish species. In 2013, we collected 42 species from 265 samples collected at 52 upstream transects, 70 downstream transects, 70 transects at undammed sites, and 73 additional transects designed to address temporal variation. Although patterns at dam sites varied, overall fish richness downstream of dam sites was greater than sites upstream of dams. No differences in fish communities were observed upstream and downstream at control sites. Data analyses of the fish community continues.

In 2013, at the six dam sites, we also quantified the geomorphic dam footprint using longitudinal trends in median substrate size. In testing for the spatial extent of the dam impact, using geomorphic principles, we found the median substrate size returned to the local equilibrium at a distance of between 0.213 km and 1.4 km for low-head dams in the Upper Neosho River. Thus, our research sampling included sites within and outside of the geomorphic dam footprint. These data can be combined with the fish community data, described above, to make inferences about the distributions of species around low-head dams.

Heterogeneity in Stream Networks (Sean Hitchman)

This component of the Neosho River project asks how should habitat heterogeneity be measured in the field?; how does habitat heterogeneity vary across sites?; how does habitat heterogeneity and/or the spatial arrangement of patches influence fish biodiversity?; and is scale effect influenced by heterogeneity? To test these questions, in 2013, at the same 11 sites described above, we also collected samples to identify the relationship between fish communities and specific habitat types. Specifically, we sampled five replicates of four specific habitat types (pool, riffle, run, glide) during 64 days of field sampling. This sampling resulted in 220 habitat-specific fish samples (42 total species), 220 stream width measurements, 1,100 depth, flow velocity, substrate measurements, and macrohabitat data for patch mosaics across 51 km of stream.

When mapping the mosaic of macrohabitats across 6 km at dammed sites and 3 km at undammed sites, patterns of pool, glide, riffle, and runs differed across sites resulting in a range of estimates of habitat diversity (H'= 0.659-1.153). Habitat diversity, especially the percent and density of riffle habitat, was positively related to species richness. Macrohabitat upstream of dams was less diverse than macrohabitat downstream. Fish species diversity and richness reflected this difference in habitat diversity with higher fish diversity downstream of the dam. The control sites also had higher macrohabitat and fish species diversity. Data analysis continues.

Fencl, Jane (M.S. 2015; advisor Mather). How big of an effect do small dams have?: using ecology and geomorphology to quantify impacts of low-head dams on fish biodiversity. M.S. Thesis, Kansas State University.

Fencl J.S., Mather M.E., Smith J.M., and S.M. Hitchman. 2015. Quantifying river fragmentation: impacts of low-head dams on geomorphology and fish biodiversity in the Neosho River, Kansas. 75th Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference; Indianapolis, Indiana.

Hitchman, S.M., M.E. Mather, J.M. Smith and J.S. Fencl. 2015. Are riffles keystone habitats in a low-gradient prairie stream?; implications for riverscape ecology and stream conservation. American Fisheries Society. Portland, Oregon.

Fencl, J.S., M.E. Mather, S.M. Hitchman and J.M. Smith. 2014. Quantifying impacts of river fragmentation: How low-head dams alter geomorphology, fish biodiversity, and habitat in the Neosho River, Kansas, American Fisheries Society Meeting, Quebec, Canada.

Hitchman, S.M., M.E. Mather, J.M. Smith and J.S. Fencl. 2014. Does heterogeneity in habitat type, size, and arrangement influence patterns of fish biodiversity in the Neosho River, Kansas? American Fisheries Society. Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

Jane Fencl, Martha Mather, Sean Hitchman and Joseph Smith. 2014. Quantifying impacts of river fragmentation: how low-head dams affect distributions of fish biodiversity and habitat in the Neosho River, Kansas. Graduate Student Research Forum, Division of Biology, Kansas State University.

Sean Hitchman, Martha Mather, Jane Fencl and Joseph Smith. 2014. Heterogeneity influences patters of fish biodiversity at multiple scales. Graduate Student Research Forum, Division of Biology, Kansas State University.

Fencl, J. S., K. H. Costigan, M. E. Mather and S. M. Hitchman. 2014. How long is the dam footprint?: Applying methodology that quantifies the geomorphic extent of low-head dams in the Neosho River basin, KS. Kansas Natural Resources Conference, Wichita, KS.

Hitchman, S.M., M.E. Mather, J.M. Smith, and J.S. Fencl. 2014. Do Fragstats sink or swim?; calculating metrics of heterogeneity for aquatic macrohabitat within the Neosho River, KS. Kansas Natural Resources Conference, Wichita, KS.

Smith, J. M., M. E. Mather, J. Fencl, and S, M. Hitchman. 2012. Stopping biodiversity loss: An evaluation of metrics that quantify the composition of fish communities in aquatic ecosystems. Midwest American Fisheries Society Meeting, Wichita, KS.