Utilization of a multicriteria least cost path model in an aquatic environment

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A critical component of maintaining biodiversity in fragmented habitats is maintaining connectivity among the usable fragments. Least cost path (LCP) analysis is a tool that can be used for predicting the ability of an organism to move from one habitat patch to another, based on geographical features of the landscape and life history traits of the organism. While this analysis has been utilized for terrestrial habitats, it is rarely applied to aquatic environments. Aquatic hypoxic conditions occur when dissolved oxygen falls below 2 mg/L. These conditions can create barriers in the water column that can either force fish to leave a habitat, or avoid that habitat altogether. Using the lower St. Johns River (LSJR) estuary in Florida, USA, as a study system, the ability of an adult silver perch, Bairdiella chrysoura, to escape a large-scale hypoxic event was modeled using a multicriteria LCP approach. Criteria-specific cost grids were constructed based upon current speed, risk of predation, and whether oxygen levels in the habitat area were normoxic (>5.5 mg/L), or hypoxic (<2.0-1.5 mg/L) as a function of water depth for the LSJR. The criteria cost grids were combined using relative weighting to produce the multicriteria cost grid used to implement the LCP analysis. Three origin and destination point locations within the LSJR study area were selected for modeling whether or not a silver perch would be able to escape a hypoxic zone. Since the LCP model will always determine a LCP from the specified origin point location, ecologically relevant swimming capacities for silver perch under normoxic and hypoxic conditions were then applied to assess the model, and to determine whether the fish would be able to reach areas unimpacted by hypoxia. The LCP model and the swimming capacity results for this study predict that under normoxic conditions, fish movement was unimpeded. During the rapidly developing hypoxic event that was modeled, the results from the LCP model indicate that the fish could move outside the hypoxic zone, but when swimming capacities were applied to the model, the silver perch could not escape. Ecologically, the results of this study suggest that silver perch would experience high mortality under a rapidly developing hypoxic event. Additionally, the results of this study indicate that a LCP model can be applied to an aquatic habitat, as long as the cost grids incorporate relevant abiotic and biotic factors. © 2013 © 2013 Taylor & Francis.

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International Journal of Geographical Information Science





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