Hydrologic modeling for flow-ecology science in the southeastern United States and Puerto Rico.

Published online
19 Jun 2020
Content type

Caldwell, P. V. & Kennen, J. G. & Hain, E. F. & Nelson, S. A. C. & Sun, G. & McNulty, S. G.

Publication language
USA & Puerto Rico & Southeastern States of USA & North Carolina


An understanding of the applicability and utility of hydrologic models is critical to support the effective management of water resources throughout the Southeastern United States (SEUS) and Puerto Rico (PR). Hydrologic models have the capacity to provide an estimate of the quantity of available water at ungauged locations (i.e., areas of the country where a U.S. Geological Survey [USGS] continuous record gauge is not installed) and provide the baseline flow information necessary to develop the linkages between water availability and characteristics of streamflow that support ecological communities (i.e., support the development of flow-ecology response models). This report inventories and then directly examines and compares a subset of hydrologic models used to estimate streamflow at a number of gauged basins across the SEUS and PR. This effort was designed to evaluate, quantify, and compare the magnitude of error and to investigate the potential causes of error associated with predicted streamflows from seven hydrologic models of varying complexity and calibration strategy. This was accomplished by computing and then comparing classical hydrologic model fit statistics (e.g., mean bias, coefficient of determination [R2], root mean squared error [RMSE], Nash-Sutcliffe Efficiency [NSE]) and understanding the bias in the prediction in these and a subset of ecologically relevant flow metrics (ERFMs). Additionally, streamflow predictions from a larger regional-scale hydrologic model were compared to those of several fine-scale hydrologic models under a range of hypothetical climate change scenarios to determine the range of predicted streamflow responses to fixed climate perturbations. A pilot study was conducted using predicted streamflow and boosted regression trees to develop a set of predictive flow-ecology response models to assess the potential change in fish species richness in the North Carolina Piedmont under several scenarios of water availability change. This report is intended to provide a general assessment of all the tools and techniques available to support hydrologic modeling for flow-ecology science in the SEUS and PR. It is our hope that the approach used herein to understand differences in streamflow predictions among a subset of hydrologic models that have been applied in the SEUS for developing flow-ecology response models will provide water resource managers and stakeholders with an informed pathway for developing the capacity to link streamflow and ecological response and an understanding of some of the limitations associated with these type of modeling efforts.

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