Harshness: characterization of intermittent stream habitat over space and time

TitleHarshness: characterization of intermittent stream habitat over space and time
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsFritz, KM, Dodds, WK
JournalMarine and Freshwater Research
Pagination13 -23
Accession NumberKNZ00966

Frequently disturbed environments, such as intermittent streams, are ecologically useful for studying how disturbance characteristics (e.g. frequency, magnitude) affect community structure and succession. We developed a harshness index that quantifies ecologically pertinent spatial and temporal characteristics of prairie intermittent streams that may limit or reduce diversity and abundance to predict benthic macroinvertebrate assemblage characteristics. The index incorporates 11 variables that describe the hydrological regime (e.g. average flow, flow variability, drying and flooding) and distance to perennial surface water. We started with 27 variables, but removed 16 that did not increase the predictive value of the index. The relationships among index values and annual mean macroinvertebrate assemblage characteristics (taxonomic richness, diversity, evenness and abundance) were tested over two years using seven sites that represent a range of flow permanence (recent and historical), flood magnitude (recent and historical) and surface-water connectivity. Mean annual taxonomic richness was significantly related to the harshness index. Evenness and abundance were not related to harshness. Further analyses indicated that distance to the nearest permanent habitat was less important than annual or historical hydrological parameters, even though prior research had documented higher rates of colonisation at sites that were closer to nearest permanent habitat. Both annual factors that can alter abundance and colonisation immediately (e.g. floods, drought in each year) and historical factors (e.g. probability of drying, average length of dry period over decades) may influence assemblage characteristics. Historical factors may influence evolutionary adaptations of invertebrates and may predominate when relative disturbance rates are lower such as in years with less flooding.