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Assessing the effect of the Three Gorges reservoir impoundment on spawning habitat suitability of Chinese sturgeon (Acipenser sinensis) in Yangtze River, China

Zhou, Jianzhong, Zhao, Yue, Song, Lixiang, Bi, Sheng, Zhang, Huajie
Ecological informatics 2014 v.20 pp. 33-46
Acipenser sinensis, anadromous fish, biological assessment, expert opinion, fuzzy logic, hydrodynamics, microhabitats, migratory behavior, power generation, rivers, spawning, surveys, water flow, water temperature, China, Yangtze River
The Chinese sturgeon (Acipenser sinensis), a kind of maricolous anadromous migratory fish species, is endangered and protected in China. Historical spawning habitats were distributed in the lower reaches of Jinsha River and the upper reaches of Yangtze River. Since the establishment of the Gezhouba water conservancy pivot in 1981, the migratory route of Chinese sturgeon spawning was blocked. Therefore, the fish was forced to propagate in a new spawning ground which was mainly distributed in the 4-km-long mainstream from Gezhouba Dam to Miaozui in the middle Yangtze River. After water storage and power generation of the Three Gorges reservoir (TGR) in 2003, the propagation of Chinese sturgeon has been impacted gradually. According to field surveys, the fish used to spawn twice a year before TGR impoundment, but only once happened after that. Besides, the spawning scale is also declining with each passing year.In order to simulate and evaluate the effect of TGR impoundment on spawning habitats of Chinese sturgeon, with consideration of their reproductive characteristics, an eco-hydrodynamic model was established by coupling a two-dimensional hydrodynamic model and a fuzzy fish habitat module based on fuzzy logic inference. Flow fields at the studied site in an impoundment scenario and an assumed no impoundment scenario were simulated with the 2D hydrodynamic model. Afterwards, by linking hydrodynamic conditions to the expert knowledge base, the fuzzy habitat model used fuzzy logic inference to compute habitat suitability of the Chinese sturgeon. In addition, the approach was used to propose a suitable instream flow range during the propagation period for Chinese sturgeon. The results indicated that the suitable instream flow needed for Chinese sturgeon spawning in middle Yangtze River should be between 10,000m3/s and 17,000m3/s and it also showed that after TGR was put into pilot impoundment operation at the designed water level of 175m, the habitat suitability has decreased significantly in October. Besides, the water temperature of spawning habitat increased to a higher level in propagation period due to the impoundment of the TGR. All these alterations have had imposed tremendous impacts on the propagation of Chinese sturgeon. Therefore, adjusting impoundment schedule of the TGR to recover the water flow over spawning habitat in October is a crucial way to improve the habitat suitability. Furthermore, the presented method also provides a theoretical basis for further research on the assessment of habitat suitability of aquatic species at a micro-habitat scale.