The effect of a large-scale irrigation scheme on the fish community structure and integrity of a subtropical river system in South Africa
Van Vuren, J.H.J.
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Large scale irrigation schemes are vitally important for food security in developing countries. This is especially relevant in subtropical countries where there is pressure on their water resources. However, the potential impacts on the fish communities of the rivers associated with these irrigation systems are extensive and potentially devastating. Therefore, the aim of the study was to evaluate the impact of the Vaalharts Irrigation Scheme (VHIS) on the fish community of two rivers (Harts and Vaal rivers) in the subtropical region of South Africa. The fish community was assessed during a three year period from 2007 to 2009 together with environmental and habitat quality parameters. A multivariate approach together with a local biotic index was used to determine the present ecological state and the environmental drivers responsible for the fish community structure. The results indicated that the fish community was in a largely natural state at the start of the VHIS and increasingly became modified due to various environmental parameters being affected by the irrigation scheme. Annual variation in the fish community structures was high while nitrate, zinc and sulphates corresponded with changes in the fish community. The outcome of the study highlighted that a lack of long term monitoring of fish community structures together with environmental and habitat parameters are a major challenge in many developing countries that can potentially affect management of irrigation schemes and the fish communities associated with the aquatic ecosystems