Run‐Of‐River Dams as a Barrier to the Movement of a Stream‐Dwelling Amphibian

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Human activities frequently create structures that alter the connectivity among habitats or act as barriers to the natural movement of animals. Movement allows individuals to access different habitats, connect life history stages, and maintain genetic diversity. Here, we evaluated whether run‐of‐river (RoR) hydropower projects, an emerging renewable energy source in British Columbia, interrupt the longitudinal connectivity among larval stream amphibians, by altering larval rearing densities, with possible repercussions on growth and survival. In three watersheds, we tested for differences in the average upstream and downstream density of larval coastal tailed frog (Ascaphus truei), as well as changes to their longitudinal distribution upstream of the dams, as would be expected if RoR dams or their headponds act as barriers to the natural downstream drift of larvae. We found a 60% decrease in larval densities downstream compared to upstream of dams, consistent with RoR dams interrupting the natural pattern of downstream A. truei drift. Larval densities in the first 10 m above RoR headponds were 3 times higher compared to 100 m upstream, and when expressed in terms of relative abundance, we find a similar pattern, with between 2.5 and 3 times more larvae in the first 10 m above of the headpond than expected if larvae followed a uniform distribution. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that RoR dams alter the spatial connectivity of A. truei larvae, leading to an accumulation of larvae directly above the dam, with unknown consequences for larval growth and survival. Our findings suggest caution is warranted when interpreting before–after monitoring studies that are often used to evaluate the impact of dams, whereby we find that reductions in downstream densities could be due to interruptions of downstream movement as opposed to direct mortality.
DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.3207
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Dare, G. C., Murray, R. G., Courcelles, D. M. M., Malt, J. M., & Palen, W. J. (2020). Run-of-river dams as a barrier to the movement of a stream-dwelling amphibian. Ecosphere, 11(8), e03207.
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Run‐Of‐River Dams as a Barrier to the Movement of a Stream‐Dwelling Amphibian
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