Climate and land-use changes affecting river sediment and brown trout in alpine countries--a review

Scheurer, Karin and Alewell, Christine and Bänninger, Dominik and Burkhardt-Holm, Patricia. (2009) Climate and land-use changes affecting river sediment and brown trout in alpine countries--a review. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 16 (2). pp. 232-242.

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BACKGROUND, AIM, AND SCOPE: Catch decline of freshwater fish has been recorded in several countries. Among the possible causes, habitat change is discussed. This article focuses on potentially increased levels of fine sediments going to rivers and their effects on gravel-spawning brown trout. Indications of increased erosion rates are evident from land-use change in agriculture, changes in forest management practices, and from climate change. The latter induces an increase in air and river water temperatures, reduction in permafrost, changes in snow dynamics and an increase in heavy rain events. As a result, an increase in river sediment is likely. Suspended sediment may affect fish health and behaviour directly. Furthermore, sediment loads may clog gravel beds impeding fish such as brown trout from spawning and reducing recruitment rates. To assess the potential impact on fine sediments, knowledge of brown trout reproductive needs and the effects of sediment on brown trout health were evaluated. APPROACH: We critically reviewed the literature and included results from ongoing studies to answer the following questions, focusing on recent decades and rivers in alpine countries. Have climate change and land-use change increased erosion and sediment loads in rivers? Do we have indications of an increase in riverbed clogging? Are there indications of direct or indirect effects on brown trout from increased suspended sediment concentrations in rivers or from an increase in riverbed clogging? RESULTS: Rising air temperatures have led to more intensive precipitation in winter months, earlier snow melt in spring, and rising snow lines and hence to increased erosion. Intensification of land use has supported erosion in lowland and pre-alpine areas in the second half of the twentieth century. In the Alps, however, reforestation of abandoned land at high altitudes might reduce the erosion risk while intensification on the lower, more easily accessible slopes increases erosion risk. Data from laboratory experiments show that suspended sediments affect the health and behaviour of fish when available in high amounts. Point measurements in large rivers indicate no common lethal threat and suspended sediment is rarely measured continuously in small rivers. However, effects on fish can be expected under environmentally relevant conditions. River bed clogging impairs the reproductive performance of gravel-spawning fish. Discussion: Overall, higher erosion and increased levels of fine sediment going into rivers are expected in future. Additionally, sediment loads in rivers are suspected to have considerably impaired gravel bed structure and brown trout spawning is impeded. Timing of discharge is put forward and is now more likely to affect brown trout spawning than in previous decades. Conclusions: Reports on riverbed clogging from changes in erosion and fine sediment deposition patterns, caused by climate change and land-use change are rare. This review identifies both a risk of increases in climate erosive forces and fine sediment loads in rivers of alpine countries. Increased river discharge and sediment loads in winter and early spring could be especially harmful for brown trout reproduction and development of young life stages. Recently published studies indicate a decline in trout reproduction from riverbed clogging in many rivers in lowlands and alpine regions. However, the multitude of factors in natural complex ecosystems makes it difficult to address a single causative factor. Recommendations and perspectives: Further investigations into the consequences of climate change and land-use change on river systems are needed. Small rivers, of high importance for the recruitment of gravel-spawning fish, are often neglected. Studies on river bed clogging are rare and the few existing studies are not comparable. Thus, there is a strong need for the development of methods to assess sediment input and river bed clogging. As well, studies on the effects to fish from suspended sediments and consequences of gravel beds clogging under natural conditions are urgently needed.
Faculties and Departments:05 Faculty of Science > Departement Umweltwissenschaften > Geowissenschaften > Umweltgeowissenschaften (Alewell)
05 Faculty of Science > Departement Umweltwissenschaften > Integrative Biologie > Aquatische Ökologie (Holm)
UniBasel Contributors:Holm, Patricia and Alewell, Christine
Item Type:Article, refereed
Article Subtype:Research Article
Note:Publication type according to Uni Basel Research Database: Journal article
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Last Modified:13 Nov 2017 11:25
Deposited On:22 Mar 2012 14:05

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