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Durham University

Department of Biosciences

Academic Staff

Publication details for Dr Martyn Lucas

Louca, V., Lindsay, S. W., Majambere, S. & Lucas, M. C. (2009). Fish community characteristics of the lower Gambia River floodplains: a study in the last major undisturbed West African river. Freshwater Biology 54(2): 254-271.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

1. The Gambia River is the last major West African river that has not been impounded. However, a hydroelectric dam is being constructed and substantial changes to the hydrology and ecology of the system are expected.

2. Little information is available on the impact of water impoundments in semi-arid regions on downstream floodplain fish communities, due to the scarcity of pre-intervention data. Because profound impacts on physical habitat, salinity and nutrient transport can occur downstream of such impoundments, a knowledge of the species-habitat associations of biota such as fishes is necessary for understanding likely changes and how to limit them.

3. Fish were sampled using cast and hand nets along two transects on the floodplain, and with fyke nets in two ‘bolongs’ (creeks) from May to November 2005 and 2006 in the lower reaches of the Gambia River, close to the salt water front where ecological changes due to the construction of the dam are likely to be pronounced.

4. Greatest fish species richness was associated with low conductivity, low pH and deep water. Bolongs held greater species richness compared with other floodplain habitats, probably because they acted as conduits for fish moving on and off the floodplain. Species richness and catch biomass increased rapidly following the first rains and then declined.

5. Using a multivariate analysis, three main species groups were identified on the floodplain; one associated with deeper water, one with less brackish water and one with shallow, open water. Tilapia guineensis was the commonest species on the floodplains.

6. The floodplains provide nursery habitats as many fish captured were immature, particularly for species where adults are mainly encountered in the main channel. Several small-sized floodplain specialists were also represented by a high proportion of mature individuals.

7. Impoundment is expected to reduce seasonal flooding of the floodplain in the lower Gambia River, downstream of the impoundment, resulting in reduced occurrence of aquatic habitats, especially bolongs, together with lower dissolved oxygen and increased salinity, leading to alteration of the floodplain fish communities, benefiting salt-tolerant species, reducing overall species richness and probably reducing floodplain fish production.