Freshwater Fish Considerations for Aquatic Conservation Systems Planning In Nova Scotia
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Freshwater ecosystems have suffered severe losses of biodiversity as a result of human activities, however there has been limited attention to freshwater conservation planning. Key criteria for biodiversity conservation in the terrestrial realm (i.e., representation, special elements and focal species) may also be useful in freshwater systems. Thus, we explore freshwater fish conservation in Nova Scotia (NS) with respect to these key criteria. Representation of freshwater fish habitats and communities should include examples of typical and unique biogeographical regions, streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, wetlands, and community assemblages. Special elements include critical habitat for species- and communities-at-risk, and hotspots of diversity and rarity. Sufficient habitat to maintain viable populations of focal species should also be conserved. Focal species 1) are functionally important, such as those at higher trophic levels and key prey, 2) have large-area requirements or are wide ranging, 3) are indicators of habitat quality and/or management practices, and 4) are flagships, such as charismatic and vulnerable species that garner support for aquatic conservation. Considerations of representation, special elements and focal species serve to identify important areas for conserving freshwater fish species, assemblages and habitat in NS. Intolerant and coldwater communities and species such as Atlantic whitefish Coregonus huntsmani, Atlantic salmon Salmo salar, brook trout Salvelinus fontinalis, lake trout Salvelinus namaycush and rainbow smelt Osmerus mordax warrant conservation attention in NS due to their relatively high ecological importance and/or vulnerability. Other factors for selecting among potential sites for conservation are stability and resilience to broader cross- or transboundary threats such as exotic species, global warming, and acidification. Furthermore, as a consequence of the fluidity and connectivity of aquatic ecosystems, conservation planning should encompass a relatively large portion of selected drainages. Our approach may be useful for other temperate regions in North America.