Ephemeral habitat supports high fish α-diversity and β-diversity during drought in a subtropical semiarid wetland

Thethela Bokhutlo, Eduardo R. Cunha, Kirk O. Winemiller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Globally, the number of rivers with intermittent flow is increasing due to climate change and water abstraction for human consumption. Currently, our understanding of how hydrology in subtropical rivers with intermittent flow affects the structure and dynamics of aquatic communities is poorly understood. Here, we investigated how fish α- and β-diversity patterns in intermittent channels in the lower reaches of the Okavango Delta respond to seasonal flooding and drought. Under low-flow conditions, ephemeral habitat had higher α-diversity, and this was influenced by a combination of fish aggregation and apparent transient legacy effects as habitat patches became smaller and more isolated. Investigation of changes in fish assemblage structure across different hydrological periods and habitat types showed significant species turnover when water levels fell, suggesting a strong influence from species sorting. During high-water periods, species assemblages were homogenized both at local and regional scales, suggesting a greater influence of mass effects. Our findings support hydrology as a major factor regulating diversity patterns in intermittent rivers of a major wetland in a semiarid region of subtropical Africa. We infer from these findings that maintenance of a relatively natural flow regime will be necessary for conserving aquatic ecosystem structure and function in this system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)778-785
Number of pages8
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 9 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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