Do productivity and disturbance interact to modulate macroinvertebrate diversity in streams?


Although disturbance and productivity are clearly strong influences on lotic diversity, rarely have their interactive effects been studied in running water systems. We hypothesised that the presence or absence of canopy cover in streams would alter productivity-disturbance-diversity relationships due to differential effects on the food base, and tested this hypothesis in 47 mountain streams in the central North Island of New Zealand. Canopy cover had no influence on algal biomass in these streams, but a link between disturbance and productivity was found in open canopy streams where taxonomic richness of invertebrates increased log-linearly with increasing algal biomass and peaked at intermediate levels of disturbance. Community evenness declined with disturbance, but only at closed canopy sites where both invertebrate taxonomic richness and Simpson’s diversity index were higher. Although there was a peak in richness at intermediate rates of disturbance, our results do not directly match predictions of the dynamic equilibrium model which predicts that the level of disturbance maximising diversity interacts with habitat productivity. Rather, we suggest the combined effects of productivity and disturbance are additive rather than multiplicative such that productivity simply sets the upper limit to richness in streams.

Jonathan D. Tonkin
Senior Lecturer & Rutherford Discovery Fellow