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Habitat connectivity is a central factor in shaping aquatic biological communities, but few tools exist to describe and quantify this attribute at a network scale in riverine systems. Here, we develop a new index to quantify longitudinal connectivity of river networks based on the expected probability of an organism being able to move freely between two random points of the network. We apply this index to two fish life histories and evaluate the effects of the number, passability, and placement of barriers on river network connectivity through the use of simulated dendritic ecological networks. We then extend the index to a real world dendritic river system in Newfoundland, Canada. Our results indicate that connectivity in river systems, as represented by our index, is most impacted by the first few barriers added to the system. This is in contrast to terrestrial systems, which are more resilient to low levels of connectivity. The results show a curvilinear relationship between barrier passability and structural connectivity. This suggests that an incremental improvement in passability would result in a greater improvement to river network connectivity for more permeable barriers than for less permeable barriers. Our analysis of the index in simulated and real river networks also showed that barrier placement played an important role in connectivity. Not surprisingly, barriers located near the river mouth have the greatest impact on fish with diadromous life histories while those located near the center of the river network have the most impact on fish with potadromous life histories. The proposed index is conceptually simple and sufficiently flexible to deal with variations in river structure and biological communities. The index will enable researchers to account for connectivity in habitat studies and will also allow resource managers to characterize watersheds, assess cumulative impacts of multiple barriers and determine priorities for restoration.
|Keywords:||aquatic connectivity, barriers, connectivity indices, dendritic ecological networks, fish passage, fragmentation, river networks, watersheds|
|Department(s):||Science, Faculty of > Biology|
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