Coupling habitat suitability and ecosystem health with AEHRA to estimate E-flows under intensive human activities

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Journal Article
Journal of Hydrology, 2017, 551 pp. 470 - 483
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© 2017 Elsevier B.V. Sustaining adequate environmental flows (e-flows) is a key principle for maintaining river biodiversity and ecosystem health, and for supporting sustainable water resource management in basins under intensive human activities. But few methods could correctly relate river health to e-flows assessment at the catchment scale when they are applied to rivers highly impacted by human activities. An effective method is presented in this study to closely link river health to e-flows assessment for rivers at the catchment scale. Key fish species, as indicators of ecosystem health, were selected by using the foodweb model. A multi-species-based habitat suitability model (MHSI) was improved, and coupled with dominance of the key fish species as well as the Index of Biological Integrity (IBI) to enhance its accuracy in determining the fish-preferred key hydrologic habitat variables related to ecosystem health. Taking 5964 fish samples and concurrent hydrological habitat variables as the basis, the combination of key variables of flow-velocity and water-depth were determined and used to drive the Adapted Ecological Hydraulic Radius Approach (AEHRA) to study e-flows in a Chinese urban river impacted by intensive human activities. Results showed that upstream urbanization resulted in abnormal river-course geomorphology and consequently abnormal e-flows under intensive human activities. Selection of key species based on the foodweb and trophic levels of aquatic ecosystems can reflect a comprehensive requirement on e-flows of the whole aquatic ecosystem, which greatly increases its potential to be used as a guidance tool for rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems at large spatial scales. These findings have significant ramifications for catchment e-flows assessment under intensive human activities and for river ecohealth restoration in such rivers globally.
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