Articles | Volume 9, issue 3
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 9, 193–208, 2005
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 9, 193–208, 2005

  14 Sep 2005

14 Sep 2005

Variability in stream discharge and temperature: a preliminary assessment of the implications for juvenile and spawning Atlantic salmon

D. Tetzlaff1, C. Soulsby1, A. F. Youngson2, C. Gibbins1, P. J. Bacon2, I. A. Malcolm2, and S. Langan3 D. Tetzlaff et al.
  • 1Department of Geography and Environment, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB24 3UF, UK
  • 2FRS Freshwater Laboratory, Faskally, Pitlochry, Perthshire, PH16 5LB, UK
  • 3The Macaulay Institute, Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen, AB15 8QH, UK

Abstract. This study focuses on understanding the temporal variability in hydrological and thermal conditions in a small mountain stream and its potential implication for two life stages of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) – stream resident juveniles and returning adult spawners. Stream discharge and temperature in the Girnock Burn, NE Scotland, were characterised over ten hydrological years (1994/1995–2003/2004). Attention was focussed on assessing variations during particular ecologically "sensitive" time periods when selected life-stages of salmon behaviour may be especially influenced by hydrological and thermal conditions.

Empirical discharge data were used to derive hydraulic parameters to predict the Critical Displacement Velocity (CDV) of juvenile salmon. This is the velocity above which fish may no longer be able to hold station in the water column and thus can be used as an index of time periods where feeding behaviour might be constrained. In the Girnock Burn, strong inter- and intra-annual variability in hydrological and thermal conditions may have important implications for feeding opportunities for juvenile fish; both during important growth periods in late winter and early spring, and the emergence of fry in the late spring. Time periods when foraging behaviour of juvenile salmon may be constrained by hydraulic conditions were assessed as the percentage time when CDV for 0+ and 1+ fish were exceeded by mean daily stream velocities. Clear seasonal patterns of CDV were apparent, with higher summer values driven by higher stream temperatures and fish length. Inter-annual variability in the time when mean stream velocity exceeded CDV for 0+ fish ranged between 29.3% (1997/1998) and 44.7% (2000/2001). For 1+ fish mean stream velocity exceeded CDV between 14.5% (1997/1998) and 30.7% (2000/2001) of the time.

The movement of adult spawners into the Girnock Burn in preparation for autumn spawning (late October to mid-November) exhibited a complex relationship with hydrological variability with marked inter-annual contrasts. In years when discharge in the period prior to spawning was low, fish movement was increasingly triggered by suboptimal flow increases as spawning time approached. In contrast, wet years with numerous events allowed a much more even distribution of fish entry. Elucidating links between discharge/temperature variability and foraging opportunities and upriver migration of adult Atlantic salmon have the potential to contribute to the improvement of conservation strategies in both regulated and unregulated rivers.