Influence of water‐level variability on fish assemblage and natural reproduction following connectivity enhancement in a Typha‐dominated coastal wetland, USA
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Influence of water‐level variability on fish assemblage and natural reproduction following connectivity enhancement in a Typha‐dominated coastal wetland, USA

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  • Journal Title:
    Journal of Fish Biology
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    We evaluated a wetland habitat modification strategy to contrast fish assemblage structure and the production of young‐of‐the‐year (YOY) fish between different engineered habitats (i.e., spawning pool complexes and connectivity channels) relative to unmodified lateral channels in a large drowned river mouth tributary of the St Lawrence River. Prior to habitat modifications, the coastal wetland was impaired by water level regulations and dominance of the invasive hybrid cattail, Typha × glauca, which collectively replaced or created barriers to seasonally flooded spawning habitats important to fish. Connectivity enhancements provided fish access along a wetland habitat gradient from sedge‐meadows to the deeper water robust emergent main channel. Across an 8‐year fish emigration dataset (2012, 2013, 2016–2021) more than 90% of all captured fish (Ntotal = 218,086 fish) were YOY and modified habitats outperformed the unmodified channels in total fish catch‐per‐unit‐effort (CPUE) per year (both YOY and non‐YOY). Spawning pool complexes had higher YOY species richness than unmodified channel habitats. Fish assemblage structure differed between the modified habitats, where connectivity channels and unmodified channels shared a more similar fish assemblage than spawning pool complexes. Modified habitats, however, supported warmer water and higher dissolved oxygen than the unmodified channels. Redundancy analysis and linear mixed‐effect modelling with abiotic variables (hydrology, temperature and dissolved oxygen) showed significant effects on fish assemblage structure, species richness and CPUE of fish emigrating from the modified and unmodified habitats. Historic flooding in 2017 and 2019 was a primary driver of YOY fish production and fish assemblage structure, but also appeared to be associated with near anoxic conditions systemwide. YOY fish for several species was inversely affected by floods at spawning pool complexes, but CPUE of YOY fish for these species appeared unaffected at the connectivity channels despite low dissolved oxygen. Diversified habitat structure (i.e., connectivity channels and spawning pool complexes) offers a management option to enhance habitat for fish that allowed compensatory effects on the capture of YOY fish of several species during floods. This multifaceted outcome from the habitat modifications resulted in unique fish assemblages between the channelized and spawning pool habitat. A connectivity‐based habitat enhancement strategy provides adaptability for an uncertain climatic and regulatory future for the Laurentian Great Lakes and St Lawrence River.
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    Journal of Fish Biology, 103(3), 574-592
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    Accepted Manuscript
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