Fish community response to increased river flow in the Kariega Estuary, a freshwater-deprived, permanently open southern African system

  • PD Vorwerk South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) Elwandle Node, Private Bag 1015, Grahamstown 6140, South Africa
  • PW Froneman Department of Zoology and Entomology, Rhodes University, Grahamstown 6140, South Africa
  • AW Paterson South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) Elwandle Node, Private Bag 1015, Grahamstown 6140, South Africa
  • AK Whitfield South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB), Private Bag 1015, Grahamstown 6140, South Africa


The littoral and demersal ichthyofaunal community structure in the freshwater-deprived, permanently open Kariega Estuary was investigated following heavy rain in November 2006 and was compared to low-flow condition data from 1991 and 1996. All surveys took place during the spring months and allowed for a comparison of a wet and a dry spring period. The 2006 freshwater pulse generated a strong horizontal salinity gradient within the estuary. In the absence of freshwater inflow, the ichthyofaunal community in the littoral zone was numerically dominated by estuarine resident species, whilst after the freshwater pulse an increased contribution of marine migrant species was observed. Within the demersal zone, marine straggler species dominated during the dry spring period and estuarine residents during the wet spring period. Numerical analyses of the littoral and demersal fish assemblages indicated the presence of three distinct groupings — corresponding to the upper and middle reaches during separate wet and dry periods, and a community associated with the lower reaches of the estuary. It is suggested that the shift in community structure between the dry and wet spring periods could be related to altered physico-chemical and trophic conditions within the estuary, as well as the increased presence of freshwater and estuarine olfactory cues within the coastal zone, which would have resulted in the recruitment of 0+ estuary-associated marine species into the Kariega system.

Keywords: fish assemblages; hypersalinity; ichthyofauna; impoundment impacts; salinity gradient; water abstraction

African Journal of Aquatic Science 2008, 33(3): 189–200

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-9364
print ISSN: 1608-5914