Impacts of current and future large dams on the geographic range connectivity of freshwater fish worldwide

Dec 28, 2019 | Papers

Freshwater fish are highly threatened by dams that disrupt the longitudinal connectivity of rivers.

Dams contribute to water security, energy supply, and flood protection but also fragment habitats of freshwater species. Yet, a global species-level assessment of dam-induced fragmentation is lacking. Here, we assessed the degree of fragmentation of the occurrence ranges of ∼10,000 lotic fish species worldwide due to ∼40,000 existing large dams and ∼3,700 additional future large hydropower dams. 

Per river basin, we quantified a connectivity index (CI) for each fish species by combining its occurrence range with a high-resolution hydrography and the locations of the dams. Ranges of nondiadromous fish species were more fragmented (less connected) (CI = 73 ± 28%; mean ± SD) than ranges of diadromous species (CI = 86 ± 19%). Current levels of fragmentation were highest in the United States, Europe, South Africa, India, and China.

Increases in fragmentation due to future dams were especially high in the tropics, with declines in CI of ∼20 to 40 percentage points on average across the species in the Amazon, Niger, Congo, Salween, and Mekong basins. Our assessment can guide river management at multiple scales and in various domains, including strategic hydropower planning, identification of species and basins at risk, and prioritization of restoration measures, such as dam removal and construction of fish bypasses.

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Valerio Barbarossaa, Rafael J. P. Schmitt, Mark A. J. Huijbregts, Christiane Zarfl, Henry King, Aafke M. Schipper

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