We assessed the influence of land cover at multiple spatial extents on fish assemblage integrity, and the degree to which riparian forests can mitigate the negative effects of catchment urbanization on stream fish assemblages. Riparian cover (urban, forest, and agriculture) was determined within 30 m buffers at longitudinal distances of 200 m, 1 km, and the entire network upstream of 59 non-nested fish sampling locations. Catchment and riparian land cover within the upstream network were highly correlated, so we were unable to distinguish between those variables. Most fish assemblage variables were related to % forest and % urban land cover, with the strongest relations at the largest spatial extent of land cover (catchment), followed by riparian land cover in the 1-km and 200-m reach, respectively. For fish variables related to urban land cover in the catchment, we asked whether the influence of riparian land cover on fish assemblages was dependent on the amount of urban development in the catchment. Several fish assemblage metrics (endemic richness, endemic:cosmopolitan abundance, insectivorous cyprinid richness and abundance, and fluvial specialist richness) were all best predicted by single variable models with % urban land cover. However, endemic:cosmopolitan richness, cosmopolitan abundance, and lentic tolerant abundance were related to % forest cover in the 1-km stream reach, but only in streams that had <15% catchment urban land cover. In these cases, catchment urbanization overwhelmed the potential mitigating effects of riparian forests on stream fishes. Together, these results suggest that catchment land cover is an important driver of fish assemblages in urbanizing catchments, and riparian forests are important but not sufficient for protecting stream ecosystems from the impacts of high levels of urbanization.
Additional publication details
Riparian influences on stream fish assemblage structure in urbanizing streams