Predicting hydrologic disturbance of streams using species occurrence data.

Affiliation

Arkansas Cooperative and Wildlife Research Unit, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR, USA. Electronic address: [Email]

Abstract

Aquatic organisms have adapted over evolutionary time-scales to hydrologic variability represented by the natural flow regime of rivers and streams in their unimpaired state. Rapid landscape change coupled with growing human demand for water have altered natural flow regimes of many rivers and streams on a global scale. Climate non-stationarity is expected to further intensify hydrologic variability, placing increased pressure on aquatic communities. Using a machine learning approach and georeferenced species occurrence data, we modeled and mapped spatial patterns of hydrologic disturbance for streams in Arkansas, Missouri, and eastern Oklahoma. Random forest (RF) models trained on fish community data, hydrologic, and landscape metrics for gaged streams in the National Hydrography (NHDPlusV2) database were used to predict a hydrologic disturbance index (HDI) for ungaged streams. The HDI is part of the USGS Geospatial Attributes of Gages for Evaluating Streamflow (GAGESII) database and is a composite index of watershed-scale disturbance from anthropogenic stressors. Fish presence/absence data had similar overall model prediction accuracy (77%; 95% CI: 0.74, 0.80) as flow variables (76%; CI: 0.73, 0.80). Including topographic variables increased the RF prediction accuracy of both the fish (90%; CI: 0.88, 0.92) and flow models (86%; CI: 0.84, 0.89). Spatial patterns of hydrologic disturbance suggest distinct ecohydrological regions exist where conservation actions may be focused. Streams with low HDI were predominately located in the Ozark Highlands, Boston Mountains, and Ouachita Mountains. Correlation analysis of HDI by flow regime showed groundwater stable streams had the lowest disturbance frequency, with over 50% of stream reaches with low HDI located in forested land cover. HDI was highest for big rivers, intermittent runoff streams and streams in areas of agricultural land use. Our results show long-term georeferenced biological data can provide a valuable resource for predictive modeling of hydrologic disturbance for ungaged rivers and streams.

Keywords

Aquatic GAP,Ecological flows,Flow alteration,Geospatial analysis,Machine learning,Natural flow regime,Random forest,Watershed conservation and management,

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