Impact of regulated releases on periphyton and macroinvertebrate communities: The dynamic relationship between hydrology and geomorphology in frequently flooded rivers


Journal Article

Flood-type disturbances affect both periphyton and macroinvertebrate communities depending on their frequency, magnitude and duration, but some impacts can be mitigated by geomorphic constraints. We studied four rivers in the Adirondack Mountains; the Indian River experienced regulated flow releases creating bank-full floods four times/week whereas other study sites provided a continuum of control conditions for comparison. We sampled periphyton and macroinvertebrate communities in each river along with channel hydrology, hydraulics and geomorphology. Periphyton abundance varied seasonally and among rivers depending on nitrate concentrations and scour. Flow releases created a static mosaic of patches consisting of heavily scoured bed sediment in the thalweg (high shear stress areas-HSS) which had very low periphyton abundance; boulders and rocky shoals created low shear stress areas (LSS) supporting mats of filamentous algae. Macroinvertebrate densities were highest in HSS areas whereas LSS areas had lower macroinvertebrate densities that were more similar to reference rivers, although both LSS and HSS areas had the lowest species diversity and richness. Macroinvertebrate composition in HSS areas was dominated by filter-feeders, whereas LSS areas had more gatherers and scrapers. While all rivers had high boulder densities, the Indian River could be considered geomorphically moribund-its substrate was immobile and the channel experienced no adjustments in spite of high flood frequencies. These physical characteristics help mitigate the severe hydrologic conditions that releases create because the static mosaic of low and HSS patches allow certain macroinvertebrates adapted to this level of disturbance to persist. This static mosaic is different from the shifting mosaic pattern often observed in streams following flood-type disturbances. Geomorphically moribund rivers may lack ecological sensitivity to hydrologic disturbances, and decisions to limit flow modification (e.g. recreational flow releases, hydropower generation) should consider whether assumed ecological impacts are likely to occur given local geomorphic conditions and constraints. © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Fuller, RL; Doyle, S; Levy, L; Owens, J; Shope, E; Vo, L; Wolyniak, E; Small, MJ; Doyle, MW

Published Date

  • June 1, 2011

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 27 / 5

Start / End Page

  • 630 - 645

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1535-1467

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1535-1459

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1002/rra.1385

Citation Source

  • Scopus