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In-stream microhabitat mosaic depicts the success of mitigation measures and controls the Ecological Potential of benthic communities in heavily modified rivers

Buffagni, Andrea, Barca, Emanuele, Erba, Stefania, Balestrini, Raffaella
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.673 pp. 489-501
Bayesian theory, aquatic invertebrates, benthic organisms, community structure, lowlands, microhabitats, multidimensional scaling, rivers, species diversity, Italy
The positive effect of mitigation measures on in-stream habitat conditions and the benthic community is recognised. In heavily modified rivers, though, the response of aquatic invertebrates to mitigation measures and habitat mosaic changes is scarcely documented.We used non-metric multidimensional scaling to explore the benthic community of leveed rivers in the agricultural lowlands of Northern Italy. The relevance of in-stream substrate microhabitat for the benthic community was assessed, together with the impact of mitigation measures. We proposed a straightforward approach to quantify similarity of microhabitat mosaic between sites testing its statistical significance based on Bayesian statistics. We hypothesised that changes of microhabitat mosaic would reflect the level of implementation of mitigation measures and benthic invertebrates would respond accordingly. Alpha, beta diversity and benthic metrics used to classify ecological status/potential were considered and their variation tested against different levels of measure implementation. Lastly, ecological potential classification was paralleled to both the level of measure implementation and habitat attributes.The microhabitats found at sites where measures were fully implemented differed from those observed elsewhere and they clearly mirrored morphological alteration and mitigation measures. Moreover, alongside morphological alteration, microhabitat diversity and mosaic were the main factors for benthic community structure. While benthic beta diversity strictly reflected microhabitat diversity, alpha diversity and ecological status metrics copied the mosaic gradient. Microhabitat attributes and most benthic metrics showed significant changes following measure implementation and they were accompanied by a gradual shift in ecological potential classes.We demonstrated the importance of in-stream substrate microhabitats as a bridge between mitigation measures and the benthic community. Particularly when ecological classification is under focus, microhabitat mosaic should be evaluated for achieving a better understanding of biological responses. The huge amount of data available worldwide could support a straightforward use of river mosaic information for river management.