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Open-File Report 2010–1139

Prepared in cooperation with the
Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, the
Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, and the
Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game

Preliminary Assessment of Factors Influencing Riverine Fish Communities in Massachusetts

By David S. Armstrong, Todd A. Richards, and Sara L. Brandt


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The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (MDCR), Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MDEP), and the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game (MDFG), conducted a preliminary investigation of fish communities in small- to medium-sized Massachusetts streams. The objective of this investigation was to determine relations between fish-community characteristics and anthropogenic alteration, including flow alteration and impervious cover, relative to the effect of physical basin and land-cover (environmental) characteristics. Fish data were obtained for 756 fish-sampling sites from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife fish-community database. A review of the literature was used to select a set of fish metrics responsive to flow alteration. Fish metrics tested include two fish-community metrics (fluvial-fish relative abundance and fluvial-fish species richness), and five indicator species metrics (relative abundance of brook trout, blacknose dace, fallfish, white sucker, and redfin pickerel). Streamflows were simulated for each fish-sampling site using the Sustainable Yield Estimator application (SYE). Daily streamflows and the SYE water-use database were used to determine a set of indicators of flow alteration, including percent alteration of August median flow, water-use intensity, and withdrawal and return-flow fraction. The contributing areas to the fish-sampling sites were delineated and used with a Geographic Information System (GIS) to determine a set of environmental characteristics, including elevation, basin slope, percent sand and gravel, percent wetland, and percent open water, and a set of anthropogenic-alteration variables, including impervious cover and dam density.

Two analytical techniques, quantile regression and generalized linear modeling, were applied to determine the association between fish-response variables and the selected environmental and anthropogenic explanatory variables. Quantile regression indicated that flow alteration and impervious cover were negatively associated with both fluvial-fish relative abundance and fluvial-fish species richness. Three generalized linear models (GLMs) were developed to quantify the response of fish communities to multiple environmental and anthropogenic variables. Flow-alteration variables are statistically significant for the fluvial-fish relative-abundance model.

Impervious cover is statistically significant for the fluvial-fish relative-abundance, fluvial-fish species richness, and brook trout relative-abundance models. The variables in the equations were demonstrated to be significant, and the variability explained by the models, as measured by the correlation between observed and predicted values, ranges from 42 to 65 percent. The GLM models indicated that, keeping all other variables the same, a one-unit (1 percent) increase in the percent depletion or percent surcharging of August median flow would result in a 0.4-percent decrease in the relative abundance (in counts per hour) of fluvial fish and that the relative abundance of fluvial fish was expected to be about 55 percent lower in net-depleted streams than in net-surcharged streams. The GLM models also indicated that a unit increase in impervious cover resulted in a 5.5-percent decrease in the relative abundance of fluvial fish and a 2.5-percent decrease in fluvial-fish species richness.

Posted July 2010

For additional information contact:
Massachusetts-Rhode Island Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
10 Bearfoot Road,
Northborough, MA 01532

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Suggested citation:

Armstrong, D.S., Richards, T.A., and Brandt, S.L., 2010, Preliminary assessment of factors influencing riverine fish communities in Massachusetts: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2010–1139, 43 p.





Purpose and Scope

Description of Study Area

Previous Studies

Factors Limiting Fish Communities


Streamflow Data and Measures of Flow Alteration

Fish-Community Data and Fish Metrics

Environmental Characteristics

Statistical Analysis

Quantile Regression

Generalized Linear Models and Extensions

Model Fitting and Validation

Relations Among Flow Alteration, Impervious Cover, and Fish Communities

Data Exploration

Streamflow Alteration

Fish-Community Data

Environmental Characteristics

Quantile Regression

Generalized Linear Models

Fluvial-Fish Species-Richness Model

Fluvial-Fish Relative-Abundance Model

Brook Trout Relative-Abundance Model

Model Validation and Limitations

Fish-Community Response to Flow Alteration and Impervious Cover

Suggestions for Further Study


References Cited

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