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Contemporary Land Change Alters Fish Communities in a San Francisco Bay Watershed, California, U.S.A.

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Urbanization is one of the leading threats to freshwater biodiversity, and urban regions continue to expand globally. Here we examined the relationship between recent urbanization and shifts in stream fish communities. We sampled fishes at 32 sites in the Alameda Creek Watershed, near San Francisco, California, in 1993–1994 and again in 2009, and we quantified univariate and multivariate changes in fish communities between the sampling periods. Sampling sites were classified into those downstream of a rapidly urbanizing area (“urbanized sites”), and those found in less impacted areas (“low-impacted sites”). We calculated the change from non-urban to urban land cover between 1993 and 2009 at two scales for each site (the total watershed and a 3km buffer zone immediately upstream of each site). Neither the mean relative abundance of native fish nor nonnative species richness changed significantly between the survey periods. However, we observed significant changes in fish community composition (as measured by Bray-Curtis dissimilarity) and a decrease in native species richness between the sampling periods at urbanized sites, but not at low-impacted sites. Moreover, the relative abundance of one native cyprinid (Lavinia symmetricus) decreased at the urbanized sites but not at low-impacted sites. Increased urbanization was associated with changes in the fish community, and this relationship was strongest at the smaller (3km buffer) scale. Our results suggest that ongoing land change alters fish communities and that contemporary resurveys are an important tool for examining how freshwater taxa are responding to recent environmental change.

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