Population decline and extinction risk of river dolphins are primarily associated with flow alteration. Previous studies predominantly highlighted maintenance of adequate flow for low water seasons when habitats contract and the risk of local extinction escalates. Although river dolphins are sensitive to reduction in river flow, no studies quantify the relationships between flow and ecology of river dolphins to mitigate the potential adverse impacts of flow alteration. We quantify the relationships between flow and the ecology of river cetaceans concerning Ganges River dolphins (GRD; Platanista gangetica gangetica) usable area availability (AWS) for the low water season at wider flows (50-575 m3/s) at finer spatial and temporal scales. This study reveals that distribution of area usable to GRD is highly regulated by the adequate flow and river attributes (velocity and depth) interactions that likely offer energetically efficient modes of locomotion to GRD, suggesting the hydro-physical environment as a major determinant of river dolphin distribution and abundance. Flow and AWS relationships indicate that the flow during the dry season negatively contributed to AWS, whereas that of pre-monsoon maximized the AWS, suggesting that modifying flow regimes does alter in-stream habitats at varying spatial scales and may influence life-history strategies. Substantial fragmentation in suitable pool availability and loss of longitudinal connectivity exhibited by dry season flow suggested a higher risk of adverse biological effects during the dry season, which may reduce population viability by reducing survivorship and reproduction failure. Owing to river dolphins' dependence on the attribute of freshwater flow, they can be expected to be more affected by flow regulations as interactive effects. Considering the seasonal effects and changes in the availability of usable areas by flow alteration, adopting effective habitat retention plans by water-based development projects appears critical to avoid further ecological risks in aquatic species conservation. Identifying priority riverscapes for river cetaceans and prioritizing investment opportunities is an essential first step towards effective riverine cetacean conservation.
ASJC Scopus subject areas