Articles | Volume 15, issue 6
Research article
09 Jun 2011
Research article |  | 09 Jun 2011

Macroinvertebrate community responses to a dewatering disturbance gradient in a restored stream

J. D. Muehlbauer, M. W. Doyle, and E. S. Bernhardt

Abstract. Dewatering disturbances are common in aquatic systems and represent a relatively untapped field of disturbance ecology, yet studying dewatering events along gradients in non-dichotomous (i.e. wet/dry) terms is often difficult. Because many stream restorations can essentially be perceived as planned hydrologic manipulations, such systems can make ideal test-cases for understanding processes of hydrological disturbance. In this study we used an experimental drawdown in a 440 ha stream/wetland restoration site to assess aquatic macroinvertebrate community responses to dewatering and subsequent rewetting. The geomorphic nature of the site and the design of the restoration allowed dewatering to occur predictably along a gradient and decoupled the hydrologic response from any geomorphic (i.e. habitat heterogeneity) effects. In the absence of such heterogeneous habitat refugia, reach-scale wetted perimeter and depth conditions exerted a strong control on community structure. The community exhibited an incremental response to dewatering severity over the course of this disturbance, which was made manifest not as a change in community means but as an increase in community variability, or dispersion, at each site. The dewatering also affected inter-species abundance and distributional patterns, as dewatering and rewetting promoted alternate species groups with divergent habitat tolerances. Finally, our results indicate that rapid rewetting – analogous to a hurricane breaking a summer drought – may represent a recovery process rather than an additional disturbance and that such processes, even in newly restored systems, may be rapid.