Complex to simple: Fish growth along the Illinois River network

Jason A. DeBoer, Martin C. Thoms, James T. Lamer, Andrew Fowler Casper, Michael D. Delong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fish growth in river ecosystems is influenced by a multitude of environmental drivers, including the heterogeneity of these drivers. Globally, river ecosystems are subject to anthropogenic stressors that can simplify riverine landscapes, homogenize riverine communities, and favor nonnative fishes. Yet, how anthropogenically driven simplification of riverine landscapes affects fish life-history traits remains largely unknown. The aim of this study was to examine the character of fish growth along the entire main channel of an Anthropocene River. We collected four species of potamodromous fish from different functional feeding guilds, from each of six functional process zones (FPZs) – unique large-scale hydrogeomorphic patches – along the entire length of the Illinois River (Illinois, USA), and calculated three growth metrics: growth rate (k), maximum size (L), and a relative growth index. The majority (7 of 12) of species-growth metric combinations did not differ among FPZs. Of the five species-growth metric combinations that were different, none exhibited more than three distinct groups of values. The limited difference in growth along the main channel of the Illinois River reflects a homogenization of ecosystem function, and is associated with the systemic simplification of physical heterogeneity of the river channel. The fishes studied from the Illinois River also tended to have faster growth rates (k) and smaller maximum sizes (L) relative to other North American freshwater ecosystems. Our results reveal spatial constraints to life-history traits and changes to ecosystem interactions, which are evidence of being in a new regime or state. This has implications for the reproductive output and resilience of native fishes in Anthropocene Rivers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100891
JournalEcological Complexity
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • Heterogeneity
  • Homogenization of ecosystem function
  • Life-history traits
  • Portfolio
  • Resilience
  • Stressors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecological Modeling


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