Movements through a fish ladder: temporal patterns and motivations to move upstream

Fish passages are constructed with the aim of reestablishing connectivity between critical habitats, in order to sustain those species that move over a large area during their lives. The upstream movements of most of the known migratory species are made for purposes of reproduction (adults) or dispersal (juveniles). The present study was conducted at the ladder constructed at Lajeado Dam (Luis Eduardo Magalhães Hydroelectric Power), on the Tocantins River. The objective was to assess whether there is a temporal pattern in the abundance of fish below the dam and in the ladder, that correlates with their breeding seasons. Additionally, it was examined whether reproduction is the predominant motivation of the shoals of fish that ascend the ladder. Samples were taken monthly from November, 2002 through October, 2003, downriver from the dam with gillnets, and in the resting pools of the fish ladder with cast nets. The analysis of seasonality in the aggregation of the shoals was based on the temporal variations in abundance and species richness. The possibility of a reproductive motivation for ascending the ladder was inferred from the frequency of the stages of gonadal development. However, during the entire study period we observed a high frequency of individuals with gonads in the pre–vitellogenic stage for all analyzed species, both downriver from the dam (97%) and in the fish ladder (98%). These findings suggest that there was no reproductive motivation for the aggregation of the fish downstream and for their entry into the ladder. On the other hand, the dominance of these stages downriver suggests that the spawning habitats are distant, and that the upstream movements occur for other reasons such as dispersal and search for more appropriate habitats for feeding and growth. The entrance into the ladder resulted more from rheophilic behavior, which is more pronounced in migratory species, than from an endogenous motivation linked to reproductive migration.
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