If you build it, they will go: A case study of stream fish diversity loss in an urbanizing riverscape Academic Article uri icon


  • 2019 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Stream fish diversity is threatened by anthropogenic environmental alterations to landscapes, and successful conservation requires knowledge of the processes that degrade diversity. A primary step in identifying diversity losses is the comparison between historical and contemporary states of landscapes and fish assemblages, but uncertainty remains regarding the appropriate spatial scales of investigation. Historical data collected in 1976 were paired with two years of contemporary replication (2015, 2016) to assess fish diversity change at 10 sites in Blackburn Fork, TN, USA. Analyses focused on a nested hierarchy of spatial scales, including sampling sites (fine scale), nested within stream orders (intermediate scale), nested within the entire catchment (broad scale). Diversity change between 1976 and 201516 was assessed using traditional diversity metrics (site scale) and rarefaction (stream-order scale), whereas spatial variation in contemporary diversity (201516) was assessed with nonmetric multidimensional scaling (catchment scale). At the site scale, locations on the east side of Blackburn Fork and in close proximity to developed land experienced diversity loss. At the stream-order scale, the effective number of species declined in first-order streams where land development was concentrated, but no consistent species losses occurred in other stream orders. At the catchment scale, assemblages responded significantly to stream size but not land use, perhaps because diversity was already homogenized by 201516. Mapping 40years of land-use change across the catchment underscored a pattern of spatial alignment between developed lands and stream fish diversity loss. This study highlights the benefits of considering multiple spatial scales when assessing historical change in stream fish assemblages, and highlights stronger inference derived from historical comparisons relative to contemporary space-for-time substitutions. This framework combines recent analytical advances in rarefaction with a riverscape perspective, and can be applied to conserve streams, and their biota, in riverscapes around the world.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 0.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Perkin, J. S., Murphy, S. P., Murray, C. M., Gibbs, W. K., & Gebhard, A. E.

citation count

  • 7

complete list of authors

  • Perkin, Joshuah S||Murphy, Shannon P||Murray, Christopher M||Gibbs, W Keith||Gebhard, Amy E

publication date

  • April 2019