Conceptual and methodological tools from behavioral ecology can inform studies of habitat quality, and their potential for evaluating habitat restoration in conservation efforts is explored here. Such approaches provide mechanistic detail in understanding the relationship between organisms and their habitats and are thus more informative than correlations between density and habitat characteristics. Several Pacific salmon species have been the target of habitat restoration efforts for the past 2–3 decades, but most post-restoration effectiveness studies have been limited to correlative data described above. In mark–recapture assays from four different study years, the affinity of sub-yearling Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tschawytscha) and steelhead (O. mykiss) for stream pools restored with or created by engineered log structures was greater than that for pools without restoration, though with high interannual variability. From corresponding distribution and density data, it was clear that habitat affinity data are not always concordant with single observations of density. The same was true of the correlation between either affinity or density and physical characteristics of pools, although depth and current velocity had some explanatory power for both responses in Chinook. Movement into pools by Chinook during the assays indicated that restored pools can support more immigrants at a given density than can unrestored pools; however, no such pattern emerged for steelhead. Variation among individuals in body condition has implications for population-wide fitness, and such low variation was correlated with stronger affinity for pools in Chinook regardless of restoration status. This suggests that pools may mediate habitat-related trade-offs and that restoring them might have a positive effect on fitness. Thus affinity, immigration, and condition data give much-needed mechanistic indication of habitat selection for restored habitat via an apparent capacity increase and those potential fitness benefits. This is stronger support for restoration effectiveness than density differences alone because density data (1) may simply indicate redistribution of fish from poor to good habitats and (2) are not adequate to show correlations between restoration and positive change in traits correlated with fitness.
Polivka, Carlos M. 2020. Habitat affinity and density-dependent movement as indicators of fish habitat restoration efficacy. Ecosphere. 11(6): e03166-. https://doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.3166.