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Bed disturbance via foraging fish increases bedload transport during subsequent high flows and is controlled by fish size and species

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posted on 2015-11-06, 14:34 authored by Andrew Pledger, Stephen Rice, Jonathan MillettJonathan Millett
Benthic foraging by fish can modify the nature and rates of fine sediment accrual and the structure and topography of coarse-grained fluvial substrates, with the potential to alter bed material characteristics, particle entrainment thresholds, and bedload transport fluxes. However, knowledge of what controls the nature, extent, and intensity of benthic foraging and the consequent influence of these controls on geomorphic impact remain rudimentary. An ex-situ experiment utilising Barbel Barbus barbus and Chub Leuciscus cephalus extended previous work by considering the role of fish size and species as controls of sediment disturbance by foraging and the implications for bed material characteristics and bedload transport. In a laboratory flume, changes in bed microtopography and structure were measured when a water-worked bed of 5.6-22.6. mm gravels was exposed to four size classes of Barbel (4-5″, 5-6″, 6-8″, 8-10″ in length) and a single size class of Chub (8-10″). In line with other studies that have investigated animal size as a control of zoogeomorphic agency, increasing the size of Barbel had a significant effect on measured disturbance and transport metrics. Specifically, the area of disturbed substrate, foraging depth, and the fish's impact on microtopographic roughness and imbrication all increased as a function of fish size. In a comparison of the foraging effects of like-sized Barbel and Chub, 8-10″ in length, Barbel foraged a larger area of the test bed and had a greater impact on microtopographic roughness and sediment structure. Relative to water-worked beds that were not foraged, bed conditioning by both species was associated with increased bedload transport during the subsequent application of high flows. However, the bedload flux after foraging by Barbel, which is a specialist benthivore, was 150% higher than that following foraging by Chub, which feed opportunistically from the bed, and the total transported mass of sediment was 98% greater. An interesting implication of these results, given the abundance and widespread distribution of foraging fish, is that numerous fish species belonging to a variety of functional groups may be acting as zoogeomorphic agents in rivers, directly affecting bed material conditions and sediment transport fluxes in proportion to their body size and feeding traits.



  • Social Sciences


  • Geography and Environment

Published in





83 - 93


PLEDGER, A.G., RICE, S.P. and MILLETT, J., 2016. Bed disturbance via foraging fish increases bedload transport during subsequent high flows and is controlled by fish size and species. Geomorphology, 253, pp. 83-93.


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  • AM (Accepted Manuscript)

Publisher statement

This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

Publication date



This paper was accepted for publication in the journal Geomorphology and the definitive published version is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geomorph.2015.09.021




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