Structural and functional recovery of macroinvertebrate communities and leaf litter decomposition after a marked drought: Does vegetation type matter?

Research paper by Silvia S Monroy, Aingeru A Martínez, Naiara N López-Rojo, Ana Victoria AV Pérez-Calpe, Ana A Basaguren, Jesús J Pozo

Indexed on: 20 May '17Published on: 20 May '17Published in: Science of the Total Environment


Climate change and anthropogenic disturbances are expected to lead to more intense and frequent droughts, with potentially severe effects on structure and function of perennial temperate streams. However, more information is required on whether streams flowing through basins already affected by exotic plantations will respond to droughts in the same way as streams under native forests. The recolonisation dynamics of benthic macroinvertebrate communities and leaf litter decomposition rates were examined in nine streams of oceanic-temperate climate that differed in catchment vegetation (three streams draining native deciduous forest, three in pine plantations and three in eucalypt plantations) after a marked drought. In each stream, five benthic samples were collected three times (ca. 1.5months between sampling dates) after flow recovery, and the taxonomic and functional trait compositions of the macroinvertebrate communities were analysed. The decomposition rate of Alnus glutinosa was measured in fine- and coarse-mesh litter bags. Benthic macroinvertebrate density, richness and diversity increased with time after flow recovery but only richness and diversity differed among stream types, with eucalypt streams showing the lowest values. Both the taxonomic and functional compositions of the macroinvertebrate community were dependent on vegetation type and time, with the differences among stream types diminishing over time. While leaf-litter decomposition rate did not depend on catchment vegetation after drought, detritivore activity was the lowest under eucalypt streams and it was positively correlated to benthic shredder density. Our results indicated that in these perennial temperate streams the catchment vegetation influenced the recovery of benthic macroinvertebrate communities after a period of drought, although the decomposition rate of leaf litter was not strongly affected. Greater understanding of the structural and functional responses of stream ecosystems to different stressors is required before the effects of expected more intense and frequent hydrological changes caused by climate change can be adequately forecast.