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Land-use influences macroinvertebrate community response following a pulse disturbance


Kevin J. Collier, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, PO Box 11-115, Hillcrest, Hamilton, New Zealand. E-mail:


1. We tested the hypothesis that interactions between disturbance types can influence invertebrate community response and recovery in two streams draining pasture (press-pulse disturbance) and native forest (pulse disturbance) catchments before and after a one-in-28-year flood. We also sampled drift and adult insects to gain insights into the relative importance of these two postdisturbance recolonisation pathways.

2. Taxa numbers and total density declined markedly at the forested site after the flood, but there was a delayed response at the pasture site, reflecting greater initial resistance to this pulse disturbance among taxa adapted to the underlying press disturbance.

3. Community composition was less stable at the pasture site where per cent abundance of taxa was highly variable prior to the flood and over the 2-year postflood sampling period. After the flood, the pasture stream fauna was more heavily dominated by vagile taxa, including several chironomid species and hydroptilid caddisflies.

4. Taxa numbers and densities recovered to preflood levels within 5–7 months at both sites, but a range of taxa-specific responses was observed that took up to 18 months to recover to preflood densities. Community stability at the pasture site had not returned to preflood composition by 2 years postflood.

5. Changes in drift densities of several common stream invertebrates at the pasture site reflected postflood changes in benthic densities and seasonally low drift in winter. Terrestrial invertebrates dominated drift at the pasture site for 3 months postflood whereas Ephemeroptera were most common at the native forest site.

6. Flight patterns of selected adult aquatic insects showed a strongly seasonal pattern. Abundance of adults at the pasture site in the second year following the flood increased in line with the recovery of the non-Dipteran benthic fauna. Significant upstream flight occurred for several caddisfly species at the native forest site, and weakly directional or downstream flight was evident for most common Plecoptera and Ephemeroptera.

7. This study indicates that the magnitude and duration of responses to major pulse disturbances can depend on the presence or absence of an underlying press disturbance. This finding has implications for monitoring, and suggests that a knowledge of disturbance history beyond 2 years may be required to interpret mechanisms contributing to observed land-use impacts.

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