Flow, force, behaviour: assessment of a prototype hydraulic barrier for invasive fish.
Migration barriers being selective for invasive species could protect pristine upstream areas. We designed and tested a prototype protective barrier in a vertical slot fish pass. Based on the individuals' swimming responses to the barrier flow field, we assumed this barrier would block the ascension of the invasive round goby, but allow comparable native species (gudgeon and bullhead) to ascend. The barrier was tested in three steps: flow description, quantification of forces experienced by preserved fish in the flow field, and tracking the swimming trajectories of ca. 43 live fish per trial and species. The flow and the forces were homogenous over the barrier, though gudgeon experienced significantly smaller forces than round goby or bullhead. The swimming trajectories were distinct enough to predict the fish species with a random forest machine learning approach (92.16% accuracy for gudgeon and 85.24% for round goby). The trajectories revealed round goby and gudgeon exhibited increased, but varied, swimming speeds and straighter paths at higher water discharge. These results suggest that passage of round goby was prevented at 130 L/s water discharge, whereas gudgeon and bullhead could pass the barrier. Our findings open a new avenue of research on hydraulic constructions for species conservation.