Modeling Effects of Forest Cover Reduction on Larval Walleye Survival in Lake Erie Tributary Spawning Basins

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An integrated modeling approach is used to link land use to river discharge, and then to survival of larval walleye that hatch in northern Ohio streams draining into Lake Erie (USA). First, to link land use and river discharge, the parameters of a simple hydrologic model are statistically related to watershed landscape attributes, including forest cover. One such relationship allows estimation of the change in daily river discharge that could result from a reduction in basin-scale forest cover. Second, to represent the river discharge-larval survival link, we reexamine a dataset from Mion and others to propose a relationship between daily flow velocity, water temperature, and walleye larval survival. Together, these linked models provide estimates of the reduction in larval survival due to reduction in forest cover, along with the uncertainty of those estimates. For the Grand River watershed, decreasing forest cover from 45.2 to 30% is projected to reduce average larval survival by about 45%. In the adjacent Chagrin River, dropping cover from 62.5 to 30% reduces survival by almost 60%. The greater rate of reduction of survival in the Chagrin River as forest levels fall is explained by a relatively greater increase in storm flows for the Chagrin, due to more frequently saturated soils. Therefore, forest preservation in the Chagrin River watershed is projected to be more effective in preserving walleye larval tributary habitat.

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