We conducted surveys of aquatic habitats during the spring and summer of 1995 in Canaan Valley, WV, to describe the diversity of aquatic habitats in the valley and identify issues that may threaten the viability of aquatic species. We assessed physical habitat and water chemistry of 126 ponds and 82 stream sites, and related habitat characteristics to landscape variables such as geology and terrain. Based on our analyses, we found two issues likely to affect the viability of aquatic populations in the valley. The first issue was acid rain and the extent to which it potentially limits the distribution of aquatic and semi-aquatic species, particularly in headwater portions of the watershed. We estimate that nearly 46%, or 56 kilometers of stream, had pH levels that would not support survival and reproduction of Salvelinuw fontinalis (brook trout), one of the most acid-tolerant fishes in the eastern US. The second issue was the influence of Castor canadensis (beaver) activity. In the Canaan Valley State Park portion of the valley, beaver have transformed 4.7 kilometers of stream (approximately 17% of the total) to pond habitat through their dam building. This has resulted in an increase in pond habitat, a decrease in stream habitat, and a fragmented stream network (i.e., beaver ponds dispersed among stream reaches). In addition, beaver have eliminated an undetermined amount of forested riparian area through their foraging activities. Depending on the perspective, beaver-mediated changes can be viewed as positive or negative. Increases in pond habitat may increase habitat heterogeneity with consequent increases in biological diversity. In contrast, flooding associated with beaver activity may eliminate lowland wetlands and associated species, create barriers to fish dispersal, and possibly contribute to low dissolved oxygen levels in the Blackwater River. We recommend that future management strategies for the wildlife refuge be viewed in the context of these two issues, and that the responses of multiple assemblages be incorporated in the design of refuge management plans.
Additional publication details
Aquatic habitats of Canaan Valley, West Virginia: Diversity and environmental threats