Delineation and validation of river network spatial scales for water resources and fisheries management

Lizhu Wang, Travis Brenden, Yong Cao, Paul Seelbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Identifying appropriate spatial scales is critically important for assessing health, attributing data, and guiding management actions for rivers. We describe a process for identifying a three-level hierarchy of spatial scales for Michigan rivers. Additionally, we conduct a variance decomposition of fish occurrence, abundance, and assemblage metric data to evaluate how much observed variability can be explained by the three spatial scales as a gage of their utility for water resources and fisheries management. The process involved the development of geographic information system programs, statistical models, modification by experienced biologists, and simplification to meet the needs of policy makers. Altogether, 28,889 reaches, 6,198 multiple-reach segments, and 11 segment classes were identified from Michigan river networks. The segment scale explained the greatest amount of variation in fish abundance and occurrence, followed by segment class, and reach. Segment scale also explained the greatest amount of variation in 13 of the 19 analyzed fish assemblage metrics, with segment class explaining the greatest amount of variation in the other six fish metrics. Segments appear to be a useful spatial scale/unit for measuring and synthesizing information for managing rivers and streams. Additionally, segment classes provide a useful typology for summarizing the numerous segments into a few categories. Reaches are the foundation for the identification of segments and segment classes and thus are integral elements of the overall spatial scale hierarchy despite reaches not explaining significant variation in fish assemblage data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)875-887
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental Management
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2012


  • Classification
  • Fish assemblage
  • River network
  • River segment
  • Spatial scale
  • Validation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Pollution


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