Water Quality Research Journal of Canada

Vol. 45 (1): 35 - 46 (2010). General issue

Influences of Human Stressors on Fish-Based Metrics for Assessing River Condition in Central Alberta

   Cameron E. Stevens, Trevor Council, Michael G. Sullivan

Abstract
Economic developments in Alberta have resulted in widespread changes in land use that may deteriorate river conditions for fish. Fish assemblages were characterized with index of biological integrity metrics for the heavily-developed watershed of the Battle River, Alberta. Metric relationships with human stressors were quantified using regression and information theory methods. Although the fauna comprised 14 native species, 50% of the catch was white sucker (Catostomus commersoni Lacepede, 1803). Five statistically unrelated metrics were identified as being responsive to stressors: two trophic guilds, one habitat guild, one reproductive guild, and one measure of community structure. Regression showed that the cumulative effect of human developments, indexed as road density in the basin, was negatively linked to the relative abundance of lithophils and positively linked to the relative abundance of omnivores. Agriculture also threatened the integrity of fish assemblages. Stream sections with higher cattle densities in their basins had fewer lithophils and benthic invertivores; whereas stream sections with higher nutrient concentrations contained fewer species, as well as fewer top carnivores, but more true omnivores. Understanding effects of human footprints that are expanding in western Canada will be critical to the successful management of aquatic resources.

Keywords
agriculture, biological integrity, fish assemblages, land-use stressors, modelling, urban development

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