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Resistance and Resilience of Lotic Algal Communities: Importance of Disturbance Timing and Current

Peterson, Christopher G., Stevenson, R. Jan
Ecology 1992 v.73 no.4 pp. 1445-1461
Achnanthes, Chlorophyta, Mougeotia, Spirogyra, Synedra, algae, biomass, community structure, habitats, lotic systems, reproduction, shear stress, spatial variation, stream channels, Kentucky
We examined effects of disturbance timing on resistance and resilience of epilithic algal communities growing in fast— (29 cm/s) and slow— (12 cm/s) current outdoor experimental stream channels in Kentucky, USA that were either left undisturbed (control) over 33 d following a simulated spate, or were subjected to an additional spate after either 9, 18, 27, 33 d. On day 33, all channels were subjected to a final spate to assess effects of short—term disturbance history on resistance, independently of seasonal influences. Succession proceeded from a sparsely populated community dominated by a small, monoraphid diatom (Achnanthes minutissima) immediately after the initial spate, to dominance by dense floating mats of filamentous green algae (Zygnematales: Mougeotia and Spirogyra) and Synedra spp. by day 21—24. Resistance was generally lower in slow—current communities, both in terms of cell—density reduction and displacement of taxonomic structure, than in fast—current communities. Resistance in slow—current communities varied temporally, with communities least resistant on day 18, when community composition and physiognomy was changing rapidly, and on day 33, when green algal mats began to senesce. On day 33, slow—current communities that had not been recently disturbed (control, D9) exhibited greatest spate—induced loss of algal biomass. Additionally, slow—current communities with high pre—disturbance phaeophytin content (an indicator of algal senescence) also changed most in diatom assemblage structure across the final spate. No such relationship was noted in fast current, suggesting that autogenic factors influenced communities in slow current more than those in fast. Resilience was higher in slow—current communities than in fast current, with disturbed communities reaching biomass and taxonomic structure similar to controls after 3—9 d. High resilience in slow current resulted from enhanced reproduction in some populations following spate—induced biomass reduction and presumed release from nutrient and light limitation, and low shear stress relative to fast—current channels where biomass accrual was limited by current. Interactions between disturbance timing, successional state, and habitat affect the susceptibility of epilithic algal communities to disturbance and likely influence temporal and spatial heterogeneity in stream ecosystems.