Human Interactions with the Aquatic Ecosystems of The Los Angeles River: The Creation of the LA River as a Human Landscape and the Effect of Exotic Fish on Human Activity
The Los Angeles River is a complex dynamic human landscape. Humans have interacted with, and modified the LA River for their convenience since prehistory (Gumprecht 2001). Situated within the human-environment interactions literature, this project works from a critical paradigm stance to explore the Los Angeles River as a human landscape. Prior works focus merely on quantifying fish community assemblages on the LA River, and neglect to view these fish as artifacts of a diverse city. The LA River is a novel ecology, an example of a natural place that exists in a state altered by human activity. Recent movements in the literature argue for the acceptance of novel ecologies as "nature".
First, this project evaluates current exotic fish assemblages on the LA River. Fish surveys establish a recent update to prior studies evaluating exotic fish on the Los Angeles River. Through the innovative application of side imaging (SI) sonar, aquatic habitats are mapped. An overlay analysis compared patterns of habitat use on the LA River to the natural history literature describing these fish species' patters of habitat use expressed in native ranges. Lastly, this project combines physical habitat data, with ecological data to establish in analysis of similarity, comparing the traits of an exotic species’ home range distribution to those of the Los Angeles River. This provides a preliminary assessment of the human dimensions of the River as well as ecological adaptations of fishes that allow them to thrive. This study found that native ranges were statistically similar to the LA River. Moreover, exotic fish from ecoregions with a greater human footprint were found to do better as exotics in another human landscape (LA River) than those from areas with less human disturbance. Next, a qualitative study of LA River angler internet videos showed that anglers' behavior and tactics vary along demographic lines. The complex social and cultural issues of the surrounding city translate to the LA River as evidenced by fishing activities. Sustenance fishing was discovered, as was underlying issues of race and class, all evident in angler behavior.
Since nature is a social construction (Cronon 1996), a product of one's cultural upbringing and social discourse, understanding who interacts with the river, and how interactions vary along demographic lines, provide a basis to critique current restoration and revitalization efforts. The river should arguably reflect the reality of those who use and interact with it, not those with the most power or money. Many people currently still view the Los Angeles River is as “natural” despite the presence of exotic and introduced fish species, and a concrete edifice. A long standing stigma has plagued the LA River, causing people to view it as a dirty, dystopian landscape. This study, however, shows that in many ways, it is still a “natural” and thriving ecosystem. Human activity has created the modern incarnation of the Los Angeles River, and human activity is responsible for creating the River as it exists today. The "human" and "natural" components of the LA River have become inseparable. Due to the significant role human activity plays in shaping the Los Angeles River and its species, this project upholds the notion that the aquatic habitats of the Los Angeles River are indeed a human landscape.