The effects of run-of-river hydroelectric power schemes on fish community composition in temperate streams and rivers

Gary Bilotta, Niall Burnside, Jeremy Gray, Harriet Orr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The potential environmental impacts of large-scale storage hydroelectric power (HEP) schemes have been well-documented in the literature. In Europe, awareness of these potential impacts and limited opportunities for politically-acceptable medium- to large-scale schemes, have caused attention to focus on smaller-scale HEP schemes, particularly run-of-river (ROR) schemes, to contribute to meeting renewable energy targets. Run-of-river HEP schemes are often presumed to be less environmentally damaging than large-scale storage HEP schemes. However, there is currently a lack of peer-reviewed studies on their physical and ecological impact. The aim of this article was to investigate the effects of ROR HEP schemes on communities of fish in temperate streams and rivers, using a Before-After, Control-Impact (BACI) study design. The study makes use of routine environmental surveillance data collected as part of long-term national and international monitoring programmes at 23 systematically-selected ROR HEP schemes and 23 systematically-selected paired control sites. Six area-normalised metrics of fish community composition were analysed using a linear mixed effects model (number of species, number of fish, number of Atlantic salmon - Salmo salar, number of >1 year old Atlantic salmon, number of brown trout - Salmo trutta, and number of >1 year old brown trout). The analyses showed that there was a statistically significant effect (p<0.05) of ROR HEP construction and operation on the number of species. However, no statistically significant effects were detected on the other five metrics of community composition. The implications of these findings are discussed in this article and recommendations are made for best-practice study design for future fish community impact studies.
Original languageEnglish
Article number e0154271
Pages (from-to)1-15
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 18 May 2016

Bibliographical note

© 2016 Bilotta et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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