Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Renewable Natural Resources

Document Type



Seasonal overbank flooding in systems like the Atchafalaya River Basin (ARB) provides the opportunity for fishes in the mainstem to access off-channel areas on the floodplain. Typically, newly inundated floodplain habitats allow adult fishes to add biomass, avoid predation, and potentially, to reproduce. However, in systems like the ARB, the timing, duration, and magnitude of flooding infrequently coincides with known reproductive periods of many fishes assumed to be floodplain-dependent. To quantify the level of floodplain-exploitative fish reproduction in the ARB, I collected larval and juvenile fish with a variety of sampling gear that allowed estimates in both ultra-shallow (< 2-m) and continuously-inundated habitats (headwater lakes, canals, and bayous). A suite of water quality parameters, river stage, flow, and hours of daylight were used to gauge the influence of environmental phenomena on age-0 abundance during both inundation and drawdown. The results of the 19-month study suggest that many taxa do not rely on the floodplain to ensure high survivorship. Interestingly, the reproductive ecologies of many ARB fishes appeared to be largely independent of widespread connectivity. Although an increasing hydrograph appeared to enhance reproductive output, the interannual timing and intensity of spawning showed limited variability. Larval densities were also contrasted with the microcrustacean zooplankton (copepods and cladocerans) population to assess if a potential food limitation existed in the weeks and months following hatching. During the study, increased zooplankter abundance was typically preceded by elevated river-floodplain connectivity. Conversely, as floodwaters receded during the summer, zooplankton abundance declined to lowest levels observed during the study. Overall, there was limited synchronous overlap between the hatchlings of most fish taxa and their zooplankter prey. This could have potentially resulted in starvation and reduced annual recruitment. Yet, my analysis of the factors that regulate larval fish abundance in the ARB suggest that the density of zooplankton was highly significant although high numbers of larvae and zooplankton rarely coincided. Finally, I compared the intraday (morning vs. afternoon) density and mean length of larval fish at fixed sample sites. The results suggest that once-daily ichthyoplankton collections may fail to provide accurate density and length measurements for young fish populations.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Rutherford, D. Allen