A hierarchical approach to classifying stream habitat features

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hierarchical approach, classifying stream habitat features

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We propose a hierarchical system of classifying stream habitats based on three increasingly fine descriptions of the morphological and hydraulic properties of channel geomorphic units. We define channel geomorphic units as areas of relatively homogeneous depth and flow that are bounded by sharp gradients in both depth and flow. Differences among these units provide a natural basis for habitat classification that is independent of spatial scale. At the most general level of resolution, we divide channel units into fast- and slow-water categories that approximately correspond to the commonly used terms “riffle” and “pool.” Within the fast-water category, we identify two subcategories of habitats, those that are highly turbulent (falls, cascades, chutes, rapids and riffles) and those with low turbulence (sheets and runs). Slow-water habitats include pools formed by channel scour (eddy pools, trench pools, mid-channel pools, convergence pools, lateral scour pools and plunge pools) and those formed behind dams. Dammed pools include those obstructed by debris dams, beaver dams, landslides and abandoned channels. We consider back-waters as a type of dammed pool. Fishes and other stream organisms distinguish among these habitats at one or more levels of hierarchy. Habitats defined in this way represent an important habitat templet on which patterns of biological diversity and production form. We believe that a hierarchical system of classification will facilitate understanding of biotic-habitat relationships in streams and lead to more effective methods of evaluating the effects of environmental change on stream ecosystems. Refining the criteria by which habitats are distinguished, quantifying how different species use different habitats, and integrating the ways biota respond to habitat variation should facilitate the emergence of a theory of stream habitat organization

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