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. 2017 Jul 11;114(28):7373-7378.
doi: 10.1073/pnas.1618936114. Epub 2017 Jun 26.

Groundwater Declines Are Linked to Changes in Great Plains Stream Fish Assemblages

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Groundwater Declines Are Linked to Changes in Great Plains Stream Fish Assemblages

Joshuah S Perkin et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

Groundwater pumping for agriculture is a major driver causing declines of global freshwater ecosystems, yet the ecological consequences for stream fish assemblages are rarely quantified. We combined retrospective (1950-2010) and prospective (2011-2060) modeling approaches within a multiscale framework to predict change in Great Plains stream fish assemblages associated with groundwater pumping from the United States High Plains Aquifer. We modeled the relationship between the length of stream receiving water from the High Plains Aquifer and the occurrence of fishes characteristic of small and large streams in the western Great Plains at a regional scale and for six subwatersheds nested within the region. Water development at the regional scale was associated with construction of 154 barriers that fragment stream habitats, increased depth to groundwater and loss of 558 km of stream, and transformation of fish assemblage structure from dominance by large-stream to small-stream fishes. Scaling down to subwatersheds revealed consistent transformations in fish assemblage structure among western subwatersheds with increasing depths to groundwater. Although transformations occurred in the absence of barriers, barriers along mainstem rivers isolate depauperate western fish assemblages from relatively intact eastern fish assemblages. Projections to 2060 indicate loss of an additional 286 km of stream across the region, as well as continued replacement of large-stream fishes by small-stream fishes where groundwater pumping has increased depth to groundwater. Our work illustrates the shrinking of streams and homogenization of Great Plains stream fish assemblages related to groundwater pumping, and we predict similar transformations worldwide where local and regional aquifer depletions occur.

Keywords: Great Plains; conservation; ecology; fishes; freshwater.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Figures

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.
Study region in the Great Plains of Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska, United States showing streams over the High Plains Aquifer, groundwater observation wells, dams, and US Geological Survey streamflow gauges. Hydrologic units (shaded areas) define six subwatersheds in which detailed analyses of hydrology and fish communities were conducted. The Inset illustrates the upper Kansas River Basin boundary (dark shading) within the broader extent of the High Plains Aquifer (blue shading). Data are from refs. , , and .
Fig. S1.
Fig. S1.
Mean (SD) stream order for species occurrences in the Kansas Aquatic GAP Database for fishes characteristic of small (
Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.
Regional-scale change through time in (A) annual volume of groundwater pumped from the High Plains Aquifer in the Kansas portion of the study area (blue area) and the cumulative number of barriers constructed (dark-red line) during 1950–2010, (B) length of coupled stream for all sizes (blue area) and for small (second- and third-order, blue lines) and large (fourth- and fifth-order, dark-red lines) streams during 1950–2060, and (C) mean (95% confidence interval) capture probabilities for fish species associated with small (blue line and band) or large (red line and band) streams during 1950–2060.
Fig. 3.
Fig. 3.
Subwatershed-scale change through time in (Upper in each panel) 90-d minimum stream flow (gray circles) summarized by generalized additive models (purple line and band, fit and 95% confidence interval) and cumulative number of barriers on surface stream channels (red line) during 1950–2010 and in (Lower in each panel) length of coupled streams (blue area), and length for small (second- and third-order, dark-blue lines) and large (fourth-, fifth-, sixth-order, dark-red lines) coupled streams during 1950–2060. Letters represent subwatersheds as follows: (A) Frenchman Creek, (B) North Fork Republican River, (C) Arikaree River, (D) South Fork Republican River, (E) Upper Republican River, and (F) Harlan County Reservoir (Fig. 1 for locations).
Fig. 4.
Fig. 4.
Change in estimated depth to groundwater between 1950 and 2060 for the study region. Change through time in mean (95% confidence interval) capture probability for fishes characteristic of small (A) Frenchman Creek, (B) North Fork Republican River, (C) Arikaree River, (D) South Fork Republican River, (E) Upper Republican River, and (F) Harlan County Reservoir.
Fig. S2.
Fig. S2.
Comparison of change in estimated depth to groundwater between 1950 and 2011 derived from (A) ref. and (B) this study. Note change in scaling of legends between panels.
Fig. S3.
Fig. S3.
Regression plot comparing estimated change in depth to groundwater (m) between 1950 and 2011 at individual stream segments distributed across the study area as estimated by ref. (x axis) and this study (y axis).
Fig. S4.
Fig. S4.
Regional map illustrating the spatial locations of stream segments coupled with (blue lines) or decoupled from (gray lines) the High Plains Aquifer for the year 2013 based on depth to groundwater estimates generated during this study. Segments were visited during December and January of 2013 and 2014 and designated as correctly classified (gray symbols) or misclassified (black symbols) according to the presence of surface water.

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