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The Role of Benthic Macroinvertebrates in Detritus Dynamics of Streams: A Computer Simulation

Webster, Jackson R.
Ecological monographs 1983 v.53 no.4 pp. 383-404
computer simulation, detritus, hydrology, macroinvertebrates, models, particulate organic matter, storms, streams, summer, Appalachian region
Detritus dynamics in Big Hurricane Branch, a second—order stream at Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory in the southern Appalachian Mountains, were simulated with a computer model, using data from a variety of Coweeta stream studies. The model was used to evaluate the role of macroinvertebrates in the stream. Macroinvertebrates accounted for only a small portion of the respiration of detritus; their major role was conversion of benthic detritus into transported detritus. Macroinvertebrates were responsible for 27% of annual particulate organic matter (POM) transport, though when they were removed there was only a 10% reduction in POM transport because of a compensatory increase in storm transport. The contribution of macroinvertebrates to POM transport during nonstorm periods was much more significant, as high as 83% in late summer. Based on an annual budget, macroinvertebrates decrease the efficiency of detritus processing in low—order streams, because they increase transport loss. On a longer time scale, however, macroinvertebrates prevent accumulation of large amounts of detritus in the stream and major losses during infrequent large storms. By stabilizing long—term detritus export dynamics, they provide an important link between low—order and higher—order streams.