Hydrologic Connectivity Affects Fish Assemblage Structure, Diversity, and Ecological Traits in the Unregulated Gambia River, West Africa
The Gambia River of West Africa is a large unobstructed river, characterized by a natural flow regime and lateral connectivity across its floodplain. Construction of a major dam, however, is planned. We compared patterns of fish diversity, habitat use, assemblage structure, and the distribution of trophic position and body morphology in riverine and floodplain habitats in Niokolo Koba National Park, located downstream of the planned dam site. A total of 49 fish species were captured, revealing a lognormal distribution as expected for species‐rich assemblages. Fish species exhibited a range of habitat use patterns, from generalist to highly habitat‐specific, and appeared to migrate laterally among habitats between seasons. Species richness was homogenous among habitats in the wet season yet appeared to increase with isolation from the main river in the dry season. Fish assemblage structure was best explained by the interaction between habitat type and season, underlining the importance of the natural flow regime and lateral connectivity among floodplain habitats. The abundance of fishes having elongate bodies increased with isolation from the main channel in the wet season only. The distribution of fishes having compressed cross‐sectional morphology decreased with isolation from the main channel in the dry season only. These patterns of trait distribution support the conclusion that variation in hydrologic connectivity structures the fish assemblage. Our results suggest that altered flow regimes and loss of floodplain habitats after damming could lead to both decreased taxonomic and functional diversity of the fish assemblage.
White, S.M., M. Ondračková, and M. Reichard. 2012. Hydrologic connectivity affects fish assemblage structure, diversity, and ecological traits in the unregulated Gambia River, West Africa. Biotropica 44(4):521-530. Online at https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1744-7429.2011.00840.x.