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Assessing the suitable habitat for reintroduction of brown trout (Salmo trutta forma fario) in a lowland river : a modeling approach

  • Boets, Pieter
  • Gobeyn, Sacha
  • Dillen, Alain
  • Poelman, Eddy
  • Goethals, Peter
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2018
Ghent University Institutional Archive
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Huge efforts have been made during the past decades to improve the water quality and to restore the physical habitat of rivers and streams in western Europe. This has led to an improvement in biological water quality and an increase in fish stocks in many countries. However, several rheophilic fish species such as brown trout are still categorized as vulnerable in lowland streams in Flanders (Belgium). In order to support cost-efficient restoration programs, habitat suitability modeling can be used. In this study, we developed an ensemble of habitat suitability models using metaheuristic algorithms to explore the importance of a large number of environmental variables, including chemical, physical, and hydromorphological characteristics to determine the suitable habitat for reintroduction of brown trout in the Zwalm River basin (Flanders, Belgium), which is included in the Habitats Directive. Mean stream velocity, water temperature, hiding opportunities, and presence of pools or riffles were identified as the most important variables determining the habitat suitability. Brown trout mainly preferred streams with a relatively high mean reach stream velocity (0.2-1m/s), a low water temperature (7-15 degrees C), and the presence of pools. The ensemble of models indicated that most of the tributaries and headwaters were suitable for the species. Synthesis and applications. Our results indicate that this modeling approach can be used to support river management, not only for brown trout but also for other species in similar geographical regions. Specifically for the Zwalm River basin, future restoration of the physical habitat, removal of the remaining migration barriers and the development of suitable spawning grounds could promote the successful restoration of brown trout.

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