The Western Ghats region of peninsular India contains high diversity of freshwater fishes that support artisanal fisheries, but no studies to date have investigated fish assemblages of the region's extensive wetlands. This study examined fish population densities and the structure of local species assemblages in pools of the Periyakulam wetland of the Western Ghats. From 2000 to 2001, fishes and local abiotic environmental parameters were surveyed during three periods with contrasting rainfall (dry, major wet, minor wet). We hypothesized that fish density would be higher during the dry season when aquatic habitat is reduced, and that local assemblage structure would be strongly associated with habitat conditions. Total fish densities were higher during the dry season, but the magnitude of seasonal change was relatively low, and this apparently was because changes in water depth were minimal due to operation of sluice gates that control wetland hydrology.
Chanda nama, Pseudetroplus maculatus, Rasbora daniconius, and Danio aequipinnatuswere dominant species in most habitats during all three seasons. Multivariate ordinations revealed strong associations between assemblage structure and habitats based on vegetation cover. Local assemblages in shallow-vegetated habitats varied seasonally in association with gradients of rainfall and water quality parameters. Spatial variation of local fish assemblages in the Periyakulam wetland appears to be maintained by species-specific habitat selection. Although hydrologic regulation probably has reduced seasonal variation in the structure of local assemblages, seasonal differences still occur and appear to be caused by species differences with regard to periods of reproduction, recruitment, dispersal and habitat selection.