Effects of Land Cover and Riparian Buffers on Coldwater Fish Assemblages in Upper South Fork New River Headwater Streams

Abstract

Riparian vegetation is an essential component of a stream ecosystem. Riparian buffers reduce runoff contamination, improve bank stability, and produce shading that regulates the water temperature for many organisms that can only thrive within specific temperature thresholds. Climate change combined with expanding urbanization and changes to land use pose a serious threat to many coldwater species as temperature increases during the summer months. Western North Carolina has many sensitive coldwater fish species to include brook (Salvelinus fontinalis), brown (Salmo trutta), and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Maintaining the biodiversity of the coldwater fish species of the Southern Appalachian Mountains is not only vital to the stability of the ecosystem but also to the state of North Carolina. Fishing provides substantial revenue and job opportunities from trip expenses, fishing equipment, licensing, and guides My study focuses on effects of temperature and conductivity to the coldwater fish assemblages in seven headwater streams that comprise the Upper South Fork New River watershed. These streams vary widely in ability to support sensitive and endemic fish species ranging from extirpation to successful localized reproduction. The goals of this project are: 1) to determine ecological conditions and environmental variables critical to healthy rural and urbanized streams, and 2) to identify best management practices, remediation techniques, and sustainable technologies that can aid in maintaining or returning healthy fish habitat, Assemblages in each headwater stream will be obtained by electrofishing and regressed vs percent impervious or forested cover, riparian zone width, bank erosion hazard index (BEHI), temperature, discharge, and specific conductivity. Fish size and weight will be recorded to determine size-class composition metrics. Water chemistry data is recorded with Eureka water quality sensors that record temperature, specific conductivity, dissolved oxygen, and depth every 15 minutes.

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