Above parr: lowland river habitat characteristics associated with higher juvenile Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) and brown trout (Salmo trutta) densities
Understanding juvenile salmonid habitat requirements is critical for their effective management, but little is known about these requirements in lowland rivers, which include important but unique salmonid habitats. We compared the relative influence of in‐stream Ranunculus cover, water depth, prey abundance, distance upstream and two previously unexplored factors (water velocity heterogeneity and site colonisation potential) on summer densities of juvenile Atlantic salmon and brown trout. We applied electrofishing, habitat surveys and macroinvertebrate kick sampling, and calculated the site colonisation potential from salmon redd surveys across 18–22 sites in a lowland river in 2015–2017. Due to a recruitment crash in 2016, models including and excluding this unusual year were explored. Excluding 2016 data, juvenile salmon densities showed a positive association with Ranunculus cover and numbers of nearby upstream redds, and a negative association with distance upstream from the tidal limit. Trout densities were positively associated with velocity heterogeneity, indicating a potential indirect influence of Ranunculus mediated by water velocity. When including 2016, year had the largest effect on densities of both species, highlighting the impact of the recruitment failure. These findings uncover interspecific differences in the habitat requirements of juvenile salmonids in lowland rivers. Velocity heterogeneity and site colonisation potential had high explanatory power, highlighting that they should be considered in future studies of habitat use. These findings demonstrate that temporal replication and recruitment dynamics are important considerations when exploring species–habitat associations. We discuss potential management implications and argue that Ranunculus cover could be an important management tool in conservation of lowland salmonids.