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Risk-based modelling of diffuse land use impacts from rural landscapes upon salmonid fry abundance

Reaney S. M., Lane S. N., Heathwaite A. L. and Dugdale L. J.2011: Risk-based modelling of diffuse land use impacts from rural landscapes upon salmonid fry abundance; Ecological Modelling Volume 222, Issue 4, 24 February 2011, Pages 1016-1029 doi:10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2010.08.022


Research has demonstrated that landscape or watershed scale processes can influence instream aquatic ecosystems, in terms of the impacts of delivery of fine sediment, solutes and organic matter. Testing such impacts upon populations of organisms (i.e. at the catchment scale) has not proven straightforward and differences have emerged in the conclusions reached. This is: (1) partly because different studies have focused upon different scales of enquiry; but also (2) because the emphasis upon upstream land cover has rarely addressed the extent to which such land covers are hydrologically connected, and hence able to deliver diffuse pollution, to the drainage network. However, there is a third issue. In order to develop suitable hydrological models, we need to conceptualise the process cascade. To do this, we need to know what matters to the organism being impacted by the hydrological system, such that we can identify which processes need to be modelled. Acquiring such knowledge is not easy, especially for organisms like fish that might occupy very different locations in the river over relatively short periods of time. However, and inevitably, hydrological modellers have started by building up piecemeal the aspects of the problem that we think matter to fish. Herein, we report two developments: (a) for the case of sediment associated diffuse pollution from agriculture, a risk-based modelling framework, SCIMAP, has been developed, which is distinct because it has an explicit focus upon hydrological connectivity; and (b) we use spatially distributed ecological data to infer the processes and the associated process parameters that matter to salmonid fry. We apply the model to spatially distributed salmon and fry data from the River Eden, Cumbria, England. The analysis shows, quite surprisingly, that arable land covers are relatively unimportant as drivers of fry abundance. What matters most is intensive pasture, a land cover that could be associated with a number of stressors on salmonid fry (e.g. pesticides, fine sediment) and which allows us to identify a series of risky field locations, where this land cover is readily connected to the river system by overland flow.

Key words: Diffuse pollution; Hydrological connectivity; Land cover; Salmonids; Fine sediment; Risk