The Oconee River in middle Georgia, U.S.A., has been regulated by the Sinclair Dam since 1953. Since then, the habitat of the lower Oconee River has been altered and the river has become more incised. The altered environmental conditions of the Oconee River may limit the success of various fish populations. Some obligate riverine fishes may be good indicator species for assessing river system integrity because they are intolerant to unfavourable conditions. For example, many sucker species require clean gravel for feeding and reproduction. Further, age-0 fishes are more vulnerable than adults to flow alterations because of their limited ability to react to such conditions. In this study, we investigated the relationship between abundance and growth of age-0 carpsuckers to river discharge in the Oconee River. A beach seine was used to collect age-0 carpsuckers (Carpiodes spp.) from littoral zones of the lower Oconee River from May through July of 1995 to 2001. Regression models were used to assess whether 12 river discharge categories (e.g. peak, low, seasonal flows) influenced age-0 carpsucker abundance or instantaneous growth. Our analysis indicated that abundance of age-0 carpsuckers was significantly negatively related to number of days river discharge was >85 m3 s-1(r2=0.61, p=0.04). Estimates of instantaneous growth ranged from 0.10 to 0.90. Instantaneous growth rates were significantly positively related to summer river discharge (r2=0.95, p<0.01). These results suggest that (1) moderate flows during spawning and rearing are important for producing strong-year classes of carpsuckers, and (2) river discharge is variable among years, with suitable flows for strong year-classes of carpsuckers occurring every few years. River management should attempt to regulate river discharge to simulate historic flows typical for the region when possible. Such an approach is best achieved when regional climatic conditions are considered.
Additional publication details
Effects of river discharge on abundance and instantaneous growth of age-0 carpsuckers in the Oconee River, Georgia, USA