How deforestation drives stream habitat changes and the functional structure of fish assemblages in different tropical regions
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Deforestation can modify stream habitat and the functional structure of fish assemblages. The aims of this study were (a) to identify whether deforestation has a similar effect on local habitats from two biogeographically distinct river basins in a tropical region; (b) to identify how fish trait–habitat relationships were influenced by deforestation; and (c) to compare functional redundancy patterns in these basins. Environmental and biological variables were obtained for 160 stream reaches, 85 located in the Alto Paraná River basin and 75 in the Machado River basin. Traits were associated with body size, habitat preference, food items and foraging period. Linear models were constructed to verify the environmental convergence of habitats across streams from the Alto Paraná and the Machado basins. An RLQ and a fourth-corner analysis were conducted to investigate how deforestation affected habitat variables and trait–habitat relationships. The nearest relative index (NRI) was used as a functional redundancy measure. Deforestation led to a similar habitat gradient from streams with a higher proportion of coarse roots in more forested catchments to streams with streamside grasses, bare soil and unconsolidated substrate in more deforested catchments; however, a general pattern of fish trait–habitat relationships was not identified across basins. Functional redundancy was associated with a long history of habitat loss in the Alto Paraná streams, whereas functional complementarity was related to more recent and less intense habitat loss in Machado streams. We believe that differences in regional species pools and historical processes between the basins influenced the fish functional responses to deforestation. Nevertheless, the results highlighted the importance of stream habitat heterogeneity and the presence of preserved forest fragments in a region to prevent the loss of unique traits. Decision-makers should therefore maintain large forest fragments and restore riparian forests to preserve stream habitat and the functional structure of fish assemblages.
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