Body mass and growth of overwintering brown trout in relation to stream habitat complexity

Koljonen, S., Huusko, A., Mäki-Petäys, A., Mykrä, H. & Muotka, T. 2012. Body mass and growth of overwintering brown trout in relation to stream habitat complexity. River Research and Applications 28(1): 62-70.

In winter, juvenile salmonids hide within the substrate during the day and emerge to feed on drifting invertebrates at night. In channelized streams, where the streambed heterogeneity has been artificially reduced, suitable microhabitats (low-flow refugia) may be in short supply. Therefore, restoration of stream habitat by enhancement structures might improve the overwintering conditions of juvenile salmonids. We used a set of artificial streams to test whether individually-marked juvenile brown trout of two age-classes (age-0 and age-1 trout) loose mass during the winter differently in channelized and semi-natural streams. Fish of both age-classes lost mass early in the winter (November to January), but age-0 fish in the channelized streams lost more of their initial mass than did the restored-stream fish (ca. 10% vs. 2.5% on average, respectively). They then exhibited zero-growth in both treatments in late winter (January to April), and by early spring (May), the channelized-stream fish had completely caught up for their greater initial mass loss. In control tanks where the fish were fed continuously, age-0 trout exhibited zero-growth from November to January, then gaining mass constantly through the rest of the experiment. Significant time*treatment interaction was also detected for age-1 trout, but all differences were caused by the faster growth of fish in the control tanks, whereas the two channel treatments did not differ significantly. The shortage of suitable sheltering sites in the channelized streams apparently intensified competition and caused greater initial mass loss in age-0 trout. Furthermore, growth compensation exhibited by juvenile trout may have negative impacts on the long-term fitness of individuals. Therefore, by increasing the amount of sheltering sites, in-stream restoration may have potential to enhance the overwintering success of juvenile salmonids