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Assessing the effects of irrigation and hydropower dams on river communities using taxonomic and multiple trait-based approaches

Abstract: Rivers and streams have suffered multiple transformations to attend the increasing water demands worldwide. Among these, dams and reservoirs cause some of the most severe ecological impacts on rivers, altering the river flow and thermal regimens, nutrient and sediment fluxes, and network connectivity. However, in the context of the different dam purposes and operational schemes, knowledge of the ecological impacts on the riverine biota is still limited. In this study, our main goal was to assess dam-related effects (e.g. hydrological and thermal alteration, water quality changes) on river biological communities and identify key ecological responses associated to flow regulation. To achieve this, diatom, macroinvertebrate, and fish communities were surveyed in control (n = 8) and impacted (n = 11) streams (i.e. downstream of irrigation or hydropower dams) along three consecutive years. The study design aimed at minimising the environmental variability among control and impacts using previously established hydrological classifications. This allowed focusing primarily on the effects of dam operation schemes. In addition to traditional biotic indices based on the composition and structure of these communities, we assessed community-level responses using trait-based analyses with multivariate and fourth-corner analyses. The ecological changes varied with dam purpose and, in general, favoured disturbance-tolerant traits. Common biotic indices did not consistently respond to dam uses; trait-based analyses, in contrast, provided a more detailed picture of the dam-related effects on the studied river communities, with macroinvertebrate traits showing the strongest correlations to dam-related hydrological and physico-chemical variables, followed by diatoms and fish. Changes in the biological communities downstream of irrigation dams were mostly related to the inversion of the seasonal flow regimes (e.g. increases in the summer flows and magnitude of low flow extremes; decreases in the winter flows and in the frequency and magnitude of extreme high flow events) and the reduction of nutrient concentration. These changes favoured planktonic diatoms, macroinvertebrates with short life cycles and small body sizes, and fish feeding on the water column. Hydropower dams elevated significantly the rate of flow change and water temperature, favouring low profile adnate diatoms, multivoltine and passively dispersed macroinvertebrates, and scrapers. The key relationships identified in our study are useful to underpin river biodiversity conservation strategies and to set future research directions aiming at reducing the negative effects of dam operation schemes.

 Fuente: Ecological Indicators 2022,145,109662

 Publisher: Elsevier

 Publication date: 01/12/2022

 No. of pages: 15

 Publication type: Article

 DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2022.109662

 ISSN: 1470-160X,1872-7034

 Spanish project: RIFFLE PID2020-114427RJ-I00

 European project: info:eu-repo/grantAgreement/EC/H2020/765553/EU/A EUROpean training and research network for environmental FLOW management in river basins/EUROFLOW/

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