Siltation of stone-surface periphyton in rivers by clay-sized particles from low concentrations in suspention

Research paper by A. A. Graham

Indexed on: 01 Jul '90Published on: 01 Jul '90Published in: Hydrobiologia


The observation that deposits of fine sediment are found on stream beds only in areas of slower water velocity promotes a common misunderstanding of the depositional behaviour of fine suspensoids in flowing water and a disregard for the potential for siltation effects on the biota on the surface of stones in fast flowing water. A model for deposition from turbulent water, whereby particles are lost from suspension where water currents are slowed by boundary friction, provides an explanation for silt infiltration into epilithic periphyton. Theoretically calculated deposition rates of clay sized mineral particles at low suspended concentrations (2 to 5 g m−3) were found to account for observed rates of silt accumulation in epilithic periphyton in a braided river in the South Island of New Zealand. At concentrations between 1 and 10 g m−3 of suspended mineral silt during normal flow, silt accumulation in epilithic periphyton accounted for about 50% of its dry weight. This caused a reduction in the mean organic content of the periphyton to 22% of the dry weight compared to 52% in a reference stream where the concentration of suspended mineral particles was less than 1.0 g m−3 during non-freshet flow. This reduction in proportional organic content is discussed in terms of diminished food value of the periphyton and potential interactions between periphyton and invertebrate consumers.