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Rapid response of fish and aquatic habitat to removal of a tidal barrier

Sun, Jingrui and Galib, Shams M. and Lucas, Martyn C. (2021) 'Rapid response of fish and aquatic habitat to removal of a tidal barrier.', Aquatic conservation : marine and freshwater ecosystems., 31 (7). pp. 1802-1816.


River barrier removal is used increasingly as a conservation tool to restore lotic habitat and river connectivity, but evidence of its efficacy is incomplete. This study used a before–after methodology to determine the effects of removing a tidal‐limit barrier on the fishes, macroinvertebrates, and habitats of an English coastal stream. Following barrier removal, habitat diversity increased immediately upstream and remained similar downstream. Mobilized silt altered the substrate composition immediately downstream, but this was temporary as silt was flushed out the following winter. Changes to macroinvertebrate communities occurred upstream and downstream of the former barrier but these were transient. A dramatic and sustained increase in fish density occurred immediately upstream of the barrier after its removal, but effects downstream were minor. The fish community upstream changed, largely due to rapid recruitment and dispersal of endangered European eel (Anguilla anguilla). Eel density in the formerly impounded zone increased from 0.5 per 100 m2 before barrier removal to 32.5 per 100 m2 5 months after removal. By 17 months after barrier removal there was no difference in eel density across the six sections sampled. Although resident stream fishes such as bullhead (Cottus gobio species complex, protected under the European Habitats Directive) were abundant in middle and upper‐stream sections, brown trout (Salmo trutta, a listed species for biodiversity conservation in England and Wales) density remained low during the study and recruitment was poor. This suggests that although colonization access for anadromous trout was available, habitat upstream may have been unsuitable for reproduction, indicating that wider catchment management is required to complement the restoration of connectivity. These findings suggest that tidal barrier removal is an effective method of restoring lotic habitats and connectivity, and can be beneficial for resident and migratory fishes including those of conservation importance (e.g. European eel) in coastal streams.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:© 2021 The Authors. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Date accepted:07 January 2021
Date deposited:05 May 2021
Date of first online publication:04 May 2021
Date first made open access:05 May 2021

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