The alluvial valley of the lower Mississippi River contains hundreds of fluvial lakes that are periodically connected to the river during high water, although the frequency, duration, and timing of the connections vary. To help design plans to restore and preserve fish assemblages in these alluvial lakes, this investigation tested whether predictable patterns in lake fish assemblages were linked to the level of connectivity with the river. Results suggested that connectivity played an important role in structuring fish assemblages and that it was correlated with variables such as lake size, depth, distance from the river, and age, which exhibit a continuum of predictable features as the river migrates away from abandoned channels. Annual floods homogenize the floodplain and promote connectivity to various degrees, allowing for fish exchanges between river and floodplain that directly affect fish assemblages. The major physical changes linked to reduced connectivity are loss of depth and area, which in turn affect a multiplicity of abiotic and biotic features that indirectly affect community structure. In advanced stages of disconnection, fish assemblages in oxbow lakes are expected to include largely species that thrive in turbid, shallow systems with few predators and low oxygen content. When the river flowed without artificial restraint, oxbow lakes were created at the rate of 13-15 per century. At present, no or few oxbow lakes are being formed, and as existing lakes age, they are becoming shallower, smaller, and progressively more disconnected from the river. Given that modifications to the Mississippi River appear to be irreversible, conservation of this resource requires maintenance of existing lakes at a wide range of aging phases that provide diverse habitats and harbor distinct species assemblages.
Additional publication details
Fish assemblages in oxbow lakes relative to connectivity with the Mississippi River