Successful reproduction and development of strong year classes of fish in storage reservoirs are commonly associated with reproductive seasons of high water level and extensive flooding. Responses to flooding are likely to be less pronounced or altogether different in mainstem navigation reservoirs that experience limited water level fluctuation. In these reservoirs, water regime characteristics such as timing of flooding, instability of water level, and water retention could supersede the effects of water level. We examined existing data to identify aspects of the water regime that have detectable consequence on juveniles of selected taxa in a sequence of four reservoirs of the Tennessee River that exhibited relatively small annual rises. Empirical models relating density of selected age-0 centrarchids to water regime suggested that descriptors of spring and summer flow through the reservoirs, water level instability, and summer water level were better related to juvenile densities than was spring water level. Different water regimes had different effects on the study species, and presumably other species in the fish communities. Therefore, a diversity of water regimes rather than a rigid rule curve is likely most beneficial to the long-term permanence of the fish assemblages of the study reservoirs. Fixed rule curves produce drawdown zones devoid of vegetation consisting primarily of mudflats of limited ecological value to floodplain species, and maintenance of water levels within the rule curve force operational drops and rises that adversely affect littoral spawners. In developing water management plans, regulatory agencies should consider incorporating managed randomness into rule curves. ?? 2007 Blackwell Publishing Asia Pty Ltd.
Additional publication details
Juvenile densities relative to water regime in mainstem reservoirs of the Tennessee River, USA