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Water Resources Investigations Report 01-4048

Fish Communities and Their Relation to Environmental Factors in the Kanawha River Basin, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina, 1997—98

By: Terence Messinger and D.B. Chambers


Stream size and zoogeography affected species composition and relative abundance of fish communities more than water-quality effects of land uses among the 21 sites sampled in West Virginia and Virginia. Most commonly-used fish metrics based on counts of species were significantly greater in sites downstream from Kanawha Falls (an important barrier to fish movement) than in sites upstream from Kanawha Falls. Commonly used metrics based on proportions of the fish community belonging to trophic or tolerance guilds were not significantly different upstream and downstream from Kanawha Falls. Variance in some widely used fish metrics was greater among multiple reaches sampled within stream segments than among all sites.

Stream size dominated species distribution and site separation along environmental gradients within groups of sites upstream and downstream from Kanawha Falls, according to ordination. Cluster analysis separated the two largest sites from all others, then divided the remaining sites by size and physiography. Similarity of fish species composition, measured using the Jaccard Similarity Coefficient, was less when compared among three contiguous reaches sampled in one stream on consecutive days than among some sites from different streams; within-site similarity decreased with increasing stream size. Cluster analysis grouped all reaches sampled at the same site in the same cluster.




Purpose and Scope

Description of the Kanawha River Basin

Fish Distribution

Taxonomic Status of Selected Fish


Materials and Methods

Fish Collections

Other Measurements

Current Fish Distribution

Comparisons of Fish Communities

Similarities Among Fish Communities

Groupings of Fish Communities

Relation of Fish Communities to Selected Environmental Factors

Fish Metrics and Environmental Factors

Site Rankings

Fish Relative Abundance and Environmental Factors


References Cited


1. Streams, towns, and other selected features of the Kanawha River Basin, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina

2. Altitude in the Kanawha River Basin is greatest in the northeastern Appalachian Plateaus and southern Blue Ridge, and least in the western Appalachian Plateaus

3. Coal mines in the Kanawha River Basin are concentrated in a band ranging from southwest to northeast

4. Kanawha Falls has been a barrier to fish movement for about 2 million years

5. Bigmouth and river chubs are separate species, although they are closely related and physically and functionally similar

6. White and striped shiners are separate species, although they are physically and functionally similar, and interbreed when in the same streams

7. Fish-collection sites in the Kanawha River Basin targeted important combinations of land use and physiography, particularly coal mining in the Appalachian Plateaus

8. When using accepted taxonomy, TWINSPAN generally separates sites by size and physiography, but with some puzzling groupings

9. When two closely related species complexes, the white/striped shiners and the bigmouth/river chubs, are each treated as single species, TWINSPAN separates fish communities in the Kanawha River Basin primarily by size

10. Stream size strongly affects metrics based on counts of species

11. Small streams consistently scored lowest in proportional metrics, but basin effects were varied

12. Taxa-richness based metrics are generally greater in collections from the Kanawha River System than in collections from the New River System

13. Habitat, land cover, and water-chemistry characteristics and invertebrate metrics generally indicated that fish communities at New River System sites would be more diverse than at Kanawha River System sites

14. (A) The range of coal production among invertebrate and fish sites in the mining synoptic study was similar. (B) Most sites with coal production above the study median were in the Kanawha River System

15. Fish species in the Kanawha River System group along environmental gradients principally by affinity for stream size, rather than according to pollution tolerance

16. Except for Kanawha River near Winfield, sites from the Kanawha River System are separated along an environmental gradient consisting of drainage area, altitude, and high-intensity residential land cover

17. New River System sites are separated along two environmental gradients largely dominated by drainage area and forest

18. Fish species are distributed along a gradient apparently strongly affected by stream size, among New River System sites


1. Data collected at fixed and synoptic sites, Kanawha River Basin, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina

2. Stream characteristics determined at sites where fish were collected, Kanawha River Basin

3. Station numbers, locations, and selected habitat-structure characteristics of all reaches of fish-community collection sites in the Kanawha River Basin

4. Fish collection dates and methods, Kanawha River Basin

5. Proportion of individual fish as non-native species in collections from Bluestone River near Spanishburg, W.Va., and Second Creek near Second Creek, W.Va., with native status assessed at different spatial scales

6. Metric-scoring criteria for fish species collected in the Kanawha River Basin

7. Fish-community metrics at sites within the Kanawha River Basin

8. Standard deviations of metrics among all sites and within multi-year, multi-reach sites, Kanawha River Basin

9. Rankings of small, medium, and large sites in the Kanawha River Basin in proportions of fish meeting four criteria

10. Rankings of sites in the New and Kanawha River Systems in numbers of fish species in five categories

11. Land-cover characteristics of fish-community collection sites in the Kanawha River Basin, expressed as a percentage of basin area

12. Invertebrate community metrics for all reaches at fish community collection sites in the Kanawha River Basin


Vertical coordinate information is referenced to the National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929 (NGVD 29). Altitude, as used in the report, refers to distance above or below NGVD 29. NGVD 29 can be converted to the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD 88) by using the National Geodetic Survey conversion utility available at URL


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For more information about USGS activities in West Virginia contact:

District Chief

U.S. Geological Survey

Water Resources Discipline

11 Dunbar Street

Charleston, West Virginia 25301

Telephone: (304) 347-5130

Fax: (304) 347-5133

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