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CADDIS Volume 2: Sources, Stressors & Responses

Physical Habitat

Physical Habitat: Simple Conceptual Diagram

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Diagram narrative

Alterations of physical habitat, defined here as changes in the structural geomorphic or vegetative features of stream channels, can adversely affect aquatic organisms. Many human activities and land uses can lead to myriad changes in in-stream physical habitat. Mining and resource extraction, agriculture, forestry and silviculture, urbanization, and industry can contribute to increased sedimentation (e.g., via increased erosion) and changes in discharge patterns (e.g., via increased stormwater runoff and point effluent discharges), as well as lead to decreases in streambank habitat and instream cover, including large woody debris (see the Sediment and Flow modules for more information on sediment- and flow-related stressors). 

Direct alteration of streams channels also can influence physical habitat, by changing discharge patterns, changing hydraulic conditions (water velocities and depths), creating barriers to movement, and decreasing riparian habitat. These changes can alter the structure of stream geomorphological units (e.g., by increasing the prevalence of run habitats, decreasing riffle habitats, and increasing or decreasing pool habitats).            

Typically, physical habitat degradation results from reduced habitat availability (e.g., decreased snag habitat, decreased riffle habitat) or reduced habitat quality (e.g., increased fine sediment cover). Decreases in habitat availability or habitat quality may contribute to decreased condition, altered behavior, increased mortality, or decreased reproductive success of aquatic organisms; ultimately, these effects may result in changes in population and community structure and ecosystem function. 

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