Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Is the hyporheic zone a refuge for macroinvertebrates in drying perennial streams?

B. A. Young A B C , R. H. Norris A and F. Sheldon B

A Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, University Drive, Bruce, ACT 2601, Australia.

B Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith School of Environment, Griffith University, 170 Kessels Road, Nathan, Qld 4111, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: b.young@griffith.edu.au

Marine and Freshwater Research 62(12) 1373-1382 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/MF11060
Submitted: 14 March 2011  Accepted: 16 July 2011   Published: 27 October 2011

Abstract

Drought and drying of perennial streams plays a central role in determining the structure of in-stream communities, decreasing taxa richness and abundance and changing trophic organisation. Further, flow cessation can increase spatial β-diversity of macroinvertebrate communities across disconnected sites. It has been hypothesised that the hyporheic zone may act as a refugium for benthic macroinvertebrates during low flow and flow cessation, but evidence remains equivocal. We explored hyporheic and surface benthic macroinvertebrate community changes associated with low flow and flow cessation conditions during a supra-seasonal drought on two normally perennial rivers: the Cotter and Queanbeyan Rivers (Canberra, ACT). Surface benthic and hyporheic samples were collected from these two rivers and four associated tributary streams across a drying gradient during dry conditions and after flow recovery to test whether macroinvertebrates in perennial streams utilise the hyporheic zone as a refugium and whether there is greater variability in the macroinvertebrate community at sites experiencing flow cessation compared with wetter sites. Low flow had no impact on macroinvertebrate taxa richness or density in either surface benthic or hyporheic habitats, whereas density and taxa richness declined during streambed drying, suggesting that the hyporheic zone did not provide a refugium for some taxa during these dry conditions. Spatial β-diversity peaked at dry sites, likely in response to the broad range of environmental conditions that may differ between refuges and sites, but decreased after flow recovery. Refuges in perennial streams appear more vulnerable to human disturbances during dry periods because a loss of suitable refuges can affect the ability of some macroinvertebrate taxa to recolonise after flow recovery.

Additional keywords: aquatic insects, drought, hyporheos, low flow, refugia, streambed drying.


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