Relationships between riverine fish and woody debris: implications for lowland rivers Academic Article uri icon


  • This paper reviews studies of relationships between riverine fish and woody debris at micro- and meso-habitat scales, and discusses the potential functions of instream structure for lowland river fish. Experimental research, mainly in North America, has identified three main functions of woody debris as microhabitat for fish in upland streams: overhead cover that decreases predation risk both vertically and horizontally; horizontal visual isolation that reduces contact between fish; and velocity refuge which minimizes energetic costs. As with habitat features in other aquatic environments, increasing spatial complexity of woody debris may modify predator–prey interactions and provide greater surface areas for the growth of prey items. Woody debris may also provide spatial reference points for riverine fish to assist them in orienting within their surroundings. Lowland rivers differ from upland streams in terms of a number of physical variables, including turbidity, depth and water turbulence. Relationships between fish and woody debris in lowland rivers are likely to rely on mechanisms different to those in upland streams. Recent initiatives involving the reintroduction of woody debris into previously cleared lowland rivers to replace lost fish habitat are a positive development for lowland river restoration. However, if woody debris reintroduction is to maximally benefit lowland river fisheries, there is a requirement for better understanding of the ecological functions of woody debris in lowland rivers.

publication date

  • 1999