Generalisation of physical habitat-discharge relationships
Abstract. Physical habitat is increasingly used worldwide as a measure of river ecosystem health when assessing changes to river flows, such as those caused by abstraction. The major drawback with this approach is that defining precisely the relationships between physical habitat and flow for a given river reach requires considerable data collection and analysis. Consequently, widely used models such as the Physical Habitat Simulation (PHABSIM) system are expensive to apply. There is, thus, a demand for rapid methods for defining habitat-discharge relationships from simple field measurements. This paper reports the analysis of data from 63 sites in the UK where PHABSIM has been applied. The results demonstrate that there are strong relationships between single measurements of channel form and river hydraulics and the habitat available for target species. The results can form the basis of a method to estimate sensitivity of physical habitat to flow change by visiting a site at only one flow. Furthermore, the uncertainty in estimates reduces as more information is collected. This allows the user to select the level of investment in data collection appropriate for the desired confidence in the estimates. The method is demonstrated using habitat indicators for different life stages of Atlantic salmon, brown trout, roach and dace.