Environmental requirements and heterogeneity of rheophilic fish nursery habitats in European lowland rivers : Current insights and future challenges

Stoffers, Twan; Buijse, Antonie D.; Verreth, Johan A.J.; Nagelkerke, Leo


The large-scale degradation of riparian ecotones and of the connectivity between rivers and their floodplains has resulted in a drastic decline of rheophilic fish populations in European temperate lowland rivers. Recent river restoration projects have had variable success in effectively restoring these fish populations. Knowledge on nursery habitat requirements is considered essential for effective population restoration. However, a detailed understanding of the role of habitat heterogeneity in young-of-the-year (YOY) fish population development is limited. Therefore, we carried out a synthesis of the available knowledge on nursery habitat requirements of rheophilic fish species found in European temperate lowland rivers (<200 m elevation). From a total of 603 papers, 77 studies with primary information were selected, containing 390 associations between habitat features and YOY fish. As expected, most studies focused on static components of physical riparian habitat. Generally, YOY fish require habitats of shallow depth (<0.5 m), with slow-flowing water (<0.2 m/s), gentle bank slope (<20°), variety in substratum types (fine sand to gravel), relatively warm water and high food availability. Surprisingly, no clear ontogenetic habitat shifts between larvae and juveniles were found, which may be explained by the limited spatial–temporal resolution of most studies. Since 2011, studies on habitat heterogeneity have increased, but few have explicitly assessed its role in relation to movement patterns of YOY fish for nursery success. Therefore, we recommend that future research focuses on fish movement patterns between habitat patches in heterogeneous (river-floodplain) environments, to increase the knowledge base for effective recovery of rheophilic fish populations.