Adult salmonids are frequently observed building redds adjacent to in-channel structure, including boulders and large woody debris. These areas are thought to be preferentially selected for a variety of reasons, including energy and/or predation refugia for spawners, and increased hyporheic exchange for incubating embryos. This research sought to quantify in-channel structure effects on local hydraulics and hyporheic flow and provide a mechanistic link between these changes and the survival, development, and growth of Chinook salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha
embryos. Data were collected in an eight-kilometer reach, on the regulated lower Mokelumne River, in the California Central Valley. Nine paired sites, consisting of an area containing in-channel structure paired with an adjacent area lacking in-channel structure, were evaluated. Results indicated that in-channel structure disrupts surface water velocity patterns, creating pressure differences that significantly increase vertical hydraulic gradients within the subsurface. Overall, in-channel structure did not significantly increase survival, development, and growth of Chinook salmon embryos. However, at several low gradient downstream sites containing in-channel structure, embryo survival, development, and growth were significantly higher relative to paired sites lacking such features. Preliminary data indicate that adding or maintaining in-channel structure, including woody material, in suboptimal spawning reaches improves the incubation environment for salmonid embryos in regulated reaches of a lowland stream. More research examining temporal variation and a full range of incubation depths is needed to further assess these findings.
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