1. The composition and spatiotemporal dynamics of biological communities are influenced by biotic processes, such as predation and competition, but also by physical disturbances, such as floods in running waters. However, the interplay of disturbance with predation is still poorly understood, especially in frequently disturbed streams. Further, different predator species can affect prey communities in different ways depending on their feeding mode and efficiency.
2. We investigated the individual and combined effects of flood-induced bed disturbance and fish predation on the benthos for 4 weeks in 18 streamside channels fed by a flood-prone New Zealand river. Bed movements caused by floods were simulated by tumbling the substratum in half the channels. Six channels each were stocked with introduced brown trout (Salmo trutta) or native upland bully (Gobiomorphus breviceps) or had fish excluded. We studied algal biomass and both invertebrate density and daytime activity on surface stones on several dates after the disturbance, invertebrate community composition in the substrata of the entire channels on day 28 and leaf decomposition rates over the 28-day period.
3. Disturbance affected algal biomass and density, richness and activity of surface stone invertebrates, and overall density and richness of channel invertebrates. Presence or absence of fish, by contrast, did not influence overall invertebrate standing stocks when subsurface substrata were included but did affect invertebrate densities on surface stones in 45% of all analysed cases and invertebrate activity on surface stones in all cases. Leaf decomposition rates were not influenced at all by the experimental manipulations.
4. Native upland bullies featured more often than exotic brown trout in causing invertebrate density changes and equally often in causing changes to grazer behaviour. Overall, our results imply that fish predation can have strong effects on the benthic invertebrate community in frequently disturbed streams, especially via behavioural changes.