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Species traits and channel architecture mediate flow disturbance impacts on invertebrate drift

Naman, Sean M., Rosenfeld, Jordan S., Richardson, John S., Way, Jesse L.
Freshwater biology 2017 v.62 no.2 pp. 340-355
aquatic invertebrates, benthic organisms, body size, habitats, lotic systems, shear stress, stream channels, swimming
Pulsed flow disturbances strongly influence invertebrate drift in lotic ecosystems. However, drift‐flow relationships are often context dependent and non‐intuitive, suggesting that local abiotic and biotic conditions mediate the impacts of flow on the physical and behavioural drivers of drift entry. Two factors may be particularly important: physical channel architecture, which modulates how flow influences velocity and habitat area; and species traits, which determine behavioural responses to flow and susceptibility to passive entrainment. We examined how channel architecture and species traits (e.g. mobility, body size, and dislodgement susceptibility) mediated the effects of flow on bulk drift abundance and taxa‐specific per capita drift rates (the rate of emigration from the benthos). In complementary experiments, we reduced and increased flows in stream mesocosms with contrasting cross‐sectional channel profiles: concave channels, where habitat area contracted and expanded with altered flow but velocity remained relatively constant; and flat channels, which maintained constant habitat area but experienced greater changes in velocity. Total drift concentration increased following flow reductions and decreased following flow increases whereas drift flux (the total number drifting) showed the opposite pattern. Channel architecture did not influence drift during flow reductions, but during flow increases drift flux and concentration were amplified in flat channels that experienced larger increases in velocity and shear stress. Contrasting responses among individual taxa to flow manipulation were explained by variation in mobility (swimming and crawling ability) and body shape (susceptibility to drag). Per capita drift rates for the most mobile taxa increased c. 10% under flow reduction, indicating a behavioural response, whereas drift of other taxa declined. Per capita drift increased for all taxa following elevated flow but by the largest magnitude in taxa with body shapes that experience more drag, suggesting passive dislodgement. Our results imply that: (i) stream channel architecture can modify the impacts of flow increases on stream invertebrates; and (ii) invertebrate taxa vary in their vulnerability and behavioural responses to flow disturbance. Together these inferences clarify some of the previously unexplained context‐dependent responses of drift to flow disturbances.