Ecohydrologic Indicators of Low-flow Habitat Availability in Eleven Virginia Rivers
Increasing demand and competition for freshwater is threatening instream uses including ecosystem services and aquatic habitat. A standard method of evaluating impacts of alternative water management scenarios on instream habitat is Instream Flow Incremental Methodology (IFIM). The primary outputs of IFIM studies are: 1) habitat rating curves that relate habitat availability to streamflow for every species, lifestage, or recreational use modelled; and 2) habitat time series under alternative water management scenarios. We compiled 428 habitat rating curves from previous IFIM studies across 11 rivers in Virginia and tested the ability to reduce this number based on similarities in flow preferences and responses to flow alteration. Individual site-species combinations were reduced from 428 objects to four groups with similar seasonal habitat availability patterns using a hierarchical, agglomerative cluster analysis. A seasonal habitat availability (SHA) ratio was proposed as a future indicator of seasonal flow preferences. Four parameters calculated from the magnitude and shape of habitat rating curves were proposed as response metrics that indicate how a lifestage responds to flow alteration. Univariate and multivariate analyses of variance and post-hoc tests identified significantly different means for the SHA ratio, QP (F=63.2, p<2e-16) and SK (F=65.6, p<2e-16). A reduced number of instream flow users can simplify the incorporation of aquatic habitat assessment in statewide water resources management.