Fish diversity loss is threatened by the construction of dams as they prevent the regular natural dispersal among populations. Thus, conservation of key riverine habitats for fish reproduction may be essential for the recruitment of new native species of fish. The present study aimed to identify key habitats for fish spawning and early development in the Paranapanema River basin, as well as to determine the taxonomic composition, reproductive and life-history strategy, and to report spatial distribution of eggs, larvae and juveniles. The importance of lagoons, tributaries, and sub-tributaries was evaluated in the Paranapanema River basin between October 2012 and March 2013. Eggs and larvae samples were collected at dawn and dusk with conical plankton nets (0.5 mm mesh size), whereas juveniles were captured during the day with seine and sieve (0.5 cm mesh size). A total of 547 eggs, 904 larvae and 1 228 juveniles were captured. We observed that 2 larvae and 288 juveniles of non-migratory species, parental care, and equilibrium life-history strategy, predominated in lagoons and tributaries. On the other hand, 13 larvae and 60 juveniles of short migratory distance, no parental care, and periodic life-history strategy predominated in sub-tributaries. The highest densities of eggs were recorded in tributaries and sub-tributaries (Tukey’s test, P = 0.001 and P = 0.03, respectively), and the highest densities of larvae were recorded for lagoons and tributaries (P = 0.005 and P = 0.0001, respectively). Captures of eggs and larvae were higher at night; while the highest catches per unit effort of juveniles were recorded for tributaries and sub-tributaries. Fish species that adopt different life-history strategies can use diverse types of habitats during the early stages. Lagoons, tributaries and sub-tributaries of the Paranapanema River play different roles in the reproductive success of fish fauna in a heavily modified basin. The preservation of spawning and nursery areas trapped between reservoirs is necessary for Neotropical fish species recruitment and survival. Rev. Biol. Trop. 66(2): 605-621. Epub 2018 June 01.

Keywords: conservation, ichthyoplankton, non-native species, migratory species, regulated rivers, South America, spawning sites.