Water abstraction affects abundance, sizestructure and growth of two threatened cyprinid fishes

Hydrologic alteration is a major threat to freshwater biota, and particularly fish, in many river courses around the world. We analyzed and compared the effects of water abstraction on two threatened cyprinid fishes of contrasting ecology (the Mediterranean barbel Barbus meridionalis and the Catalan chub Squalius laietanus) in a Mediterranean stream. We compared abundance, size-structure, growth, and condition of both species across perennial and artificially intermittent reaches affected by water abstraction. Both species were less abundant, had scarce large individuals, and displayed slower growth rates (length-at-age) in intermittent reaches, showing clear detrimental effects of water diversion. Mixed-effect models of scale increments showed variation among individuals and among sites, years and age classes for both species. The larger-sized, water-column species (chub) disappeared or was rare in many intermittent reaches. The barbel present in intermittent reaches showed better somatic condition than in sites with permanent flow, perhaps due to reduced competition after rewetting or colonization by better fitted individuals. This benthic, rheophilic species seems more resilient to moderate water abstraction than chub. Many effects of water flow intermittency were only detected on fish life-history traits when accounting for natural, often non-linear, variation, along upstream-downstream gradients. Our results suggest that abundance was the strongest indicator of effects of water abstraction on fish populations, whereas condition was a more labile trait, rapidly recovering from anthropogenic disturbance ​
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