Cooperative Research Units
Education, Research And Technical Assistance For Managing Our Natural Resources
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Developing and Testing a Spatially-Explicit, Science-Based, Decision-Support Tool for Making Riverscape-Scale Management Decisions: How Dams and Culverts Affect a Threatened Native Stream Fish, the Neosho Madtom, and Select Tributary Fish Species


January 2012 - February 2019


Resource managers need science-based tools to assess how human activities (e.g., dams and habitat modification) impact fish and other aquatic resources. Useful conservation tools must be based on rigorous science, yet they also must address specific problems of interest to environmental managers. The activities in this research project matter because low-head dams are one of the major threats to aquatic biodiversity. These barriers alter geomorphology, hydrology, and ecological patterns and processes. However, relatively little research has been done on the over 2,000,000, smaller low-head dams that block U.S. streams and rivers. In this project, our partners were the Ecological Services Division of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism. This research, which quantified habitat, geomorphology, hydrology, and fish communities at six low-head dams and at six undammed sites within the Neosho River, KS, informed management decisions. The novel and insights of our research included the quantification of geomorphic dam footprints, the detection of keystone habitat effects, the importance of habitat mosaics, and the finding that alternative approaches to measuring dam effects provided contrasting scientific information (i.e., the blind man and the elephant effect). This research impacted management decisions on dam removal, renovation, and associated watershed management by providing original Kansas-based data on dams that agency cooperators can use in communicating with private landowners and policy-makers.

Research Products and Activities

Peer Reviewed Publications

  • Fencl, J. S., M. E. Mather, K. Costigan, and M. D, Daniels. 2015. How Big of an Effect Do Small Dams Have?; Using Geomorphological Footprints to Quantify Spatial Impact of Low-Head Dams and Identify Patterns of Across-Dam Variation PLoS ONE 10(11): e0141210. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0141210 Abstract | 
  • Hitchman, S. M., M. E. Mather, J. M. Smith, J. S. Fencl. 2017. Habitat mosaics and path analysis can improve biological conservation of aquatic biodiversity in ecosystems with low-head dams. Science of the Total Environment 619–620: 221–231;
  • Fencl, J., M. Mather, J. Smith, and S. Hitchman. 2017. The blind men and the elephant examine biodiversity at low-head dams: are we all dealing with the same dam reality? Ecosphere 8 (1): 1-17; DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.1973;
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  • Fencl, Jane. 2015. How big of an effect do small dams have?: using ecology and geomorphology to quantify impacts of low-head dams on fish biodiversity. M.S., Kansas State University.
  • Hitchman, Sean. 2017. A Mosaic Approach Can Advance the Understanding and Conservation of Native Fish Biodiversity in Natural and Fragmented Riverscapes. Ph.D, Kansas State University


  • Fencl, J., M. E. Mather, S. M. Hitchman, J. M. Smith. Quantifying impacts of river fragmentation: How low-head dams alter geomorphology, fish biodiversity, and habitat in the Neosho River, Kansas

  • Hitchman, S. M., M. E. Mather, J. S. Fencl, J. M. Smith. Does heterogeneity in habitat type, size, and arrangement influence patterns of fish biodiversity in the Neosho River, Kansas?
  • Jane S. Fenc1, Martha E. Mather, Sean M. Hitchman, Joseph M. Smith. Quantifying river fragmentation: impacts of low-head dams on geomorphology and fish biodiversity in the Neosho River, Kansas

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Current Staff

Federal Staff: 101

Masters Students: 239

Phd Students: 154

Post Docs: 55

University Staff: 241

5 Year Summary

Students graduated: 695

Scientific Publications: 1962

Presentations: 4417



Funding Agencies

  • Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism


Cooperative Research Units Program Headquarters Cooperators

  1. U.S. Geological Survey