Ditch communities: a major contributor to floodplain biodiversity

Authors

  • Patrick D. Armitage,

    Corresponding author
    1. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology—Dorset, Winfrith Technology Centre, Winfrith Newburgh, Dorchester, UK
    • Centre for Ecology and Hydrology—Dorset, Winfrith Technology Centre, Winfrith Newburgh, Dorchester DT2 8ZD, UK
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  • Krzysztof Szoszkiewicz,

    1. Department of Ecology and Agricultural Environment Protection, University of Agriculture, Wojska Polskiego 71E, Poznan, Poland
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  • John H. Blackburn,

    1. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology—Dorset, Winfrith Technology Centre, Winfrith Newburgh, Dorchester, UK
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  • Ian Nesbitt

    1. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology—Dorset, Winfrith Technology Centre, Winfrith Newburgh, Dorchester, UK
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Abstract

  • 1.Chalk stream floodplains are extensively managed and the high degree of connectivity associated with water meadows has been severely reduced. The main contributor to aquatic biodiversity is perceived to be the river itself. Ditches in these areas have been largely ignored as a contributor to total diversity.
  • 2.Separate surveys of instream, bankside and ditch macroinvertebrates in a small area of floodplain provided a unique opportunity to assess the relative contribution of each locality to total aquatic diversity. The fauna and flora of a ditch on the lower River Frome floodplain was examined and compared with studies of adjacent bankside and instream habitat. A total of 145 macroinvertebrate taxa and 61 plant species were recorded from the ditch. Faunal abundance and richness were positively related to the diversity of aquatic plants. The ditch showed a clear linear trend in community type that appeared to be partly related to the acidic seepage from tertiary deposits at the source and percentage cover of vegetation.
  • 3.There were large differences in the numbers of taxa collected in ditch, bankside, instream mesohabitat and RIVPACS surveys. Of the total 202 taxa recorded in the four surveys, the ditch contributed 59 unique taxa with 25 from the bankside and two and three from the mesohabitat and RIVPACS surveys, respectively.
  • 4.The large contribution of the Rushton Ditch to aquatic biodiversity on the floodplain is due to three main factors: the chemically different and slow-flowing environment, the connection to the main river, and a management regime which has halted hydroseral succession at a point where vegetation structure is for the most part open and able to support a wide range of ecological niches. The maintenance of these conditions requires sensitive management and further knowledge of the needs and interactions of faunal communities with vegetation.

Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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