Research Article: Fish under pressure: Examining behavioural responses of Iberian barbel under simulated hydropeaking with instream structures

Date Published: January 23, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): M. J. Costa, J. F. Fuentes-Pérez, I. Boavida, J. A. Tuhtan, A. N. Pinheiro, Dennis M. Higgs.


Hydropeaking is the rapid change in the water flow downstream of a hydropower plant, driven by changes in daily electricity demand. These fluctuations may produce negative effects in freshwater fish. To minimize these impacts, previous studies have proposed habitat enhancement structures as potential mitigation measures for salmonids. However, the recommendation of these mitigation measures for cyprinids remains scarce and their effects unknown. In this study, the effects of potential habitat mitigation structures under simulated hydropeaking and base-flow conditions are examined for Iberian barbel (Luciobarbus bocagei) in an indoor flume. Solid triangular pyramids and v-shaped structures were evaluated as potential flow-refuging areas and compared with a configuration without structures. A novel, interdisciplinary approach is applied to investigate individual and group responses to rapidly changing flows, by assessing physiological (glucose and lactate), movement behaviour (structure use, sprints and drifts) and the pressure distribution using a fish-inspired artificial lateral line flow sensor. The major findings of this study are four-fold: 1) Under hydropeaking conditions, the v-shaped structures triggered a lactate response and stimulated individual structure use, whereas solid structures did not elicit physiological adjustments and favoured individual and group structure use. Overall, both solid structures and their absence stimulated sprints and drifts. 2) The hydrodynamic conditions created in hydropeaking did not always reflect increased physiological responses or swimming activity. 3) Each event-structure combination resulted in unique hydrodynamic conditions which were reflected in the different fish responses. 4) The most relevant flow variable measured was the pressure asymmetry, which is caused by the vortex size and shedding frequency of the structures. Considering the non-uniform nature of hydropeaking events, and the observation that the fish responded differently to specific flow event-structure combinations, a diverse set of instream structures should be considered for habitat-based hydropeaking mitigation measures for Iberian barbel.

Partial Text

Hydropower provides an immediate and renewable source of electricity capable of responding to rapid daily fluctuations in electricity network demand. Accordingly, the construction of hydropower plants has continued worldwide [1,2]. Due to the high fluctuations in daily electricity demand, the controlled discharge of water through the turbines creates hydropeaking, manifested as rapid flow fluctuations in the receiving water [3]. The rapid flow fluctuations result from the distinct phases of hydropeaking: base-flow discharge (no electricity production), increasing discharge or up-ramping (rapid increase in electricity production), continuous high peak discharge (peak energy demand), and decreasing discharge or down-ramping (shutdown of the turbines) [4]. The range of flow alterations depends highly on the operation scheme of the hydropower plant. In regulated rivers having hydropower plants with inter-annual storage capacity, the peak-flows can exceed the base-flow by a factor of eight [5]. The effects of these changes can be particularly noticeable in Iberian rivers affected by Mediterranean climate, where in summer there is low water availability in comparison with winter, and the environmental flows cannot exceed those of the natural flow regime [6]. For example, during summer periods the flow ratio can be eightfold, the daily peak frequency twofold, and peak duration one to two hours [7]. These fluctuations affect the ecological integrity of river ecosystems [8,9] by changing the downstream morphological and hydrological processes [10–15]. Specifically addressing freshwater fish, those changes will affect diel activities (e.g. predator avoidance, foraging or finding refuge) and life-cycle events (e.g. reproductive migratory cues, survival or growth). These activities are intrinsically associated with movement behaviour shifts which differ from those occurring within natural flow conditions (for example, in magnitude and distance covered). Thus, fish are forced to adapt, and the energetic resources necessary to complete those events may be reduced [16]. Due to their high mobility in the river system, fish reflect the longitudinal gradient of the river continuum. Thus, the biological impacts of hydropeaking have been mainly studied considering fish as the indicator organism [10]. However, extreme macroinvertebrate drifts [17] and physiological and physical constraints in riparian plants [10] have been documented.

The effects of simulated hydropeaking events including instream structures as flow refuges for L. bocagei were investigated. A novel, interdisciplinary approach combined physiological and behavioural responses with fluid-body interactions measured with a fish-inspired artificial lateral line. The combinations of hydrodynamic events and instream structures altered the spatio-temporal distribution and magnitude of velocity, turbulence fields and pressure fluctuations (Figs 7–9), and were found to correspond to distinct physiological and behavioural responses (Figs 4–6 and Table 2).

This study provides experimental evidence that rapidly changing flow events in the presence of instream structures can trigger differentiated physiological and behavioural responses in L. bocagei. The LLP results further demonstrated that the combination of flow events with instream structures resulted in unique flow conditions, characterized by distinct velocity, turbulence and vorticity distributions in the flume, and particularly near the structure area. As these hydrodynamic features were unique to each combination, and specific behavioural responses were found, critical thresholds of local hydrodynamic variables for L. bocagei were defined accordingly (Table 3). In summary, under HP conditions lower velocities and higher turbulence and vorticity promote individual structure use, whereas higher velocities and milder turbulence and vorticity were found to promote sprints and drifts. Under BF conditions, the more frequent group behaviour and the lower refuge use, indicate that milder velocities in the structure area and lower mean turbulence and vorticity in the remaining flume area create favourable flow conditions for L. bocagei.




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