Assessing fish metrics and biotic indices in a Mediterranean stream: Effects of uncertain native status of fish

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Implementation of the Water Framework Directive requires tools for measuring and monitoring the ecological status of aquatic ecosystems. Several indices are in use in the Iberian Peninsula, although there has been little comparison among them. We sampled the fish assemblage and limnological features of the Tordera stream (NE Spain) quarterly from September 2001 to May 2003 to evaluate the usefulness of several fish metrics and to compare habitat quality and biotic indices currently in use. Data for eight biotic and abiotic indices for this and three other Catalan river basins were also compiled in order to analyse the relationships among indices. In the Tordera stream, fish abundance and richness increased with stream order except in the last sampling site that had the lowest fish abundance owing to the effects of drought and water abstraction. Although most indices were positively correlated, some displayed low or null correlations particularly for the Tordera basin which is more affected by water abstraction and less by pollution; a commonly used physico-chemical index (ISQA) was the least correlated. In a regional fish index (IBICAT) under development, the brown trout (Salmo trutta) has been previously considered as introduced in the Tordera basin. Here, we report an old published record that demonstrates that trout was present before 1845 and we argue that its status should be considered as uncertain given the current information available. Whether brown trout is treated as native or introduced to this river basin has profound effects on the results of fish metrics because of its dominance in the upper reaches. We briefly discuss the role of introduced species, particularly in headwater streams, in the development of fish indices. Our study exemplifies the need for careful, basin-specific assessment of native/introduced status in the development of fish metrics ​
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