Abstract:  

A set of eight simple ecological and social principles is proposed that could enhance the understanding of what constitutes fish ‘habitat’ and, if implemented, could contribute to improved management and conservation strategies. The habitat principles are a small, interrelated sub-set that may be coupled with additional ones to formulate comprehensive guidelines for management and conservation strategies. It is proposed that: 1) habitat can be created by keystone species and interactions among species; 2) the productivity of aquatic and riparian habitat is interlinked by reciprocal exchanges of material; 3) the riparian zone is fish habitat; 4) fishless headwater streams are inseparable from fish-bearing rivers downstream; 5) habitats can be coupled – in rivers, lakes, estuaries and oceans, and in time; 6) habitats change over hours to centuries; 7) fish production is dynamic due to biocomplexity, in species and in habitats; 8) management and conservation strategies must evolve in response to present conditions, but especially to the anticipated future. It is contended that the long-term resilience of native fish communities in catchments shared by humans depends on incorporating these principles into management and conservation strategies. Further, traditional strategies poorly reflect the dynamic nature of habitat, the true extent of habitat, or the intrinsic complexity in societal perspectives. Forward-thinking fish management and conservation plans view habitat as more than water. They are multilayered, ranging from pools to catchments to ecoregions, and from  hours to seasons to centuries. They embrace, as a fundamental premise, that habitat evolves through both natural and anthropogenic processes, and that patterns of change may be as important as other habitat attributes.

 

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