Patterns of Fish Community Structure Associated with Created Wetlands in the Upper White River Watershed

Fish communities were sampled from macrotopographical features found in created wetlands of different ages (termed young, old, and reference) designed by the Wetland Reserve Program in three counties in east-central Arkansas. Wetlands were sampled from March-June 2003 using mini modified-fyke nets and experimental gill nets in pool and ditch habitats. A total of 8,952 fishes representing 49 species was collected. Repeated-measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) indicated no significant differences in fish diversity or evenness between different-aged wetlands in pool habitats; a significant pattern of greater fish species richness in pools associated with reference wetlands occurred relative to young and old created wetlands. In ditch habitats, fish diversity and evenness tended to increase significantly through time in reference wetlands compared to created wetlands, whether young or old, though overall means were not significantly different among the three different-aged wetlands. Conversely, fish richness tended to be significantly greater in ditch habitats of young wetlands. Detrended Correspondence Analysis (DCA) suggested fish communities varied along a gradient related to both wetland age and habitat type. Results indicated that rough fish species such as common carp (Cyprinus carpio), black bullhead (Ameiurus melas), and green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus) were associated with created wetlands regardless of whether young or old. Reference wetlands exhibited a tendency towards greater abundances and varieties of centrarchid and cyprinid fish species such as pugnose minnow (Opsopoeodus emiliae), warmouth (L. gulosus), weed shiner (N. texanus), and cypress minnow (Hybognathus hayi). Older-created wetlands were intermediate between fish communities found in young and reference wetlands and contained fish species found in both other wetland types. Overall, DCA results demonstrated a successional trend in created wetlands wherein young wetland fish communities evolved with increasing age towards communities found at reference sites that were considered to be more natural and undisturbed.

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