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Effects of Tea Plantations on Stream Invertebrates in a Global Biodiversity Hotspot in Africa

Biervliet, Olly van, Wiśniewski, Konrad, Daniels, Joseph, Vonesh, James R.
Biotropica 2009 v.41 no.4 pp. 469-475
anthropogenic activities, aquatic invertebrates, dissolved oxygen, ecosystem services, ecosystems, forested watersheds, forests, habitats, income, indigenous species, macroinvertebrates, mountains, plantations, species diversity, streams, tea, tropics, Tanzania
Tropical stream ecosystems in montane forest watersheds are important centers of endemism and diversity and provide essential ecosystem services. These habitats are subject to a variety of stressors, including the conversion of adjacent terrestrial habitats from forest to agriculture, but the impacts of these anthropogenic effects are largely unknown because of the paucity of studies in these systems. In montane habitats in the wet tropics, large-scale cultivation of tea is common and can represent an important source of income at local and national scales. However, little is known about how tea cultivation impacts adjacent stream ecosystems. In this study, we examine stream macroinvertebrate assemblages in a biodiversity hotspot the East Usambara Mountains, Tanzania. Specifically, we compare diversity of macroinvertebrate assemblages found on cobbles in stream riffles in watersheds dominated by forest with those surrounded by tea cultivation. We found that streams surrounded by tea were characterized by significantly lower dissolved oxygen and had lower total estimated species richness and number of families. Furthermore, the richness of invertebrate taxa known to be sensitive to anthropogenic disturbance were substantially reduced in tea streams and general assemblage-level analysis shows significant differences in the composition of macroinvertebrate assemblages between tea and forested streams. Our results suggest that tea cultivation may reduce stream habitat quality and biodiversity in the East Usambaras. Further research is needed to evaluate the effects of tea cultivation on streams over longer times scales and to address methods for minimizing negative effects of agriculture on montane stream communities.