Thesis-2015-Pledger.pdf (18.97 MB)
Download file

Foraging fish as zoogeomorphic agents: their effects on the structure and composition of gravel-bed river sediments with implications for bed material transport

Download (18.97 MB)
posted on 06.02.2015, 14:05 by Andrew G. Pledger
The plants and animals that inhabit river channels may act as zoogeomorphic agents affecting the nature and rates of sediment recruitment, transport and deposition. The impact of benthic-feeding fish, which disturb bed material sediments during their search for food, has received little attention, even though benthic feeding species are widespread in rivers and may collectively expend significant amounts of energy foraging across the bed. A series of experiments were conducted to investigate the impacts of benthic feeding fish on the structure and composition of gravel-bed river sediments, and the implications for bed material transport. An ex-situ experiment was conducted to investigate the impact of a benthic feeding fish (European Barbel Barbus barbus) on particle displacements, bed sediment structures, gravel entrainment and transport fluxes. In a laboratory flume, changes in bed surface topography were measured and grain displacements examined when an imbricated, water-worked bed of 5.6-16 mm gravels was exposed to feeding juvenile Barbel. For substrates that had been exposed to feeding fish and control substrates which had not, grain entrainment rates and bedload fluxes were measured under a moderate transport regime. On average, approximately 37% of the substrate, by area, was modified by foraging fish during a four-hour treatment period, resulting in increased microtopographic roughness and reduced particle imbrication. Structural changes caused by fish increased bed load flux by 60% under entrainment flows, whilst on average the total number of grains transported during the entrainment phase was 82% higher from substrates that had been disturbed by Barbel. An ex-situ experiment utilising Barbel and Chub Leuciscus cephalus extended this initial study by considering the role of fish size and species as controls of sediment disturbance by foraging. Increasing the size of Barbel had a significant effect on measured disturbance and bedload transport. Specifically, the area of disturbed substrate, foraging depth, microtopographic roughness and sediment structure all increased as functions of fish size, as did bedload flux and total transported mass. In a comparison of the foraging effects of like-sized Barbel and Chub 8-10 in length, Barbel foraged a larger area of the riverbed and had a greater impact on microtopographic roughness and sediment structure. Foraging by both species was associated with increased sediment transport, but the bed load flux after foraging by Barbel was 150% higher than that following foraging by Chub and the total transported mass of sediment was 98% greater. An in-situ experiment quantified the effects of foraging fish, primarily Cyprinids (specifically Barbel and Chub), on gravel-river bed sediment structures, surface grain-size distributions, sediment transport fluxes and grain entrainment in the River Idle, Nottinghamshire, UK. This was achieved by installing large experimental sediment trays seeded with food at typical densities. The experiments yielded data about 1) topographic and structural differences between pre- and post-feeding substrates using DEMs interpolated from laser scans, 2) modifications to surface and sub-surface grain-size distributions as a function of fish foraging and 3) differences in sediment entrainment from water-worked substrates exposed to feeding fish and control substrates, without fish. Small sections of the substrate trays were recovered in tact from the field and for substrates that had been exposed to feeding fish and control substrates which had not, grain entrainment rates and bedload fluxes were measured under a moderate transport regime in the laboratory. On average, approximately 74% of the substrate, by area, was modified by foraging fish during a twelve-hour period, resulting in increased microtopographic roughness and substrate coarsening which had significant implications for bed material transport during the steady entrainment flow. Together, results from these experiments indicate that by increasing surface microtopography, modifying the composition of fluvial substrates and undoing the naturally stable structures produced by water working, foraging can influence sediment transport dynamics, predominately by increasing the mobility of river bed materials. The implication of this result is that by influencing the quantity of available, transportable sediment and entrainment thresholds, benthic feeding may affect sediment transport fluxes in gravel-bed rivers. In addition, three discrete studies were performed alongside the core experiments described above. A quantitative examination of habitat conditions favoured by feeding Barbel was conducted in the River Idle (Nottinghamshire, UK) which served to supplement existing literature pertaining to Barbel ecology, and inform experimental design during the core experiments. Two further studies considered the potential importance of foraging as a zoogeomorphic activity in terms of spatial extent, at a variety of scales, thereby extending core experiments to larger spatial scales in-situ.



  • Social Sciences


  • Geography and Environment


© Andrew Pledger

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:

Publication date



A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.