Get access

The macroinvertebrate seedbank promotes community persistence in temporary rivers across climate zones


Correspondence: Rachel Stubbington, School of Science and Technology, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire NG11 8NS, U.K. E-mail:


  1. Aquatic macroinvertebrates inhabiting temporary rivers are typically described as having low resistance to riverbed drying. However, little research has examined the ‘seedbank’ within dry riverbed sediments, which comprises aquatic life stages that survive in dewatered sediments and from which active organisms may develop only after surface water returns.
  2. We synthesised published and unpublished data from studies that had experimentally rehydrated sediments collected from dry riverbeds, to establish the importance of the seedbank in promoting macroinvertebrate community resistance. Studies from across climate zones were included, to examine seedbank importance in relation to environmental harshness and, in particular, sediment moisture. We also assessed the importance of the seedbank relative to alternative habitats promoting persistence of the flowing river (FR) assemblage. We predicted that the proportion of the FR assemblage present in rehydrated sediments (RS) would decrease with environmental harshness, due to conditions within the sediments becoming less conducive to the survival of biota.
  3. A negative relationship between the proportion of FR taxa present in RS and harshness was observed, and this contributed to a reduction in the compositional similarity of FR and RS assemblages as harshness increased. Significant positive correlations were identified between sediment moisture content and macroinvertebrate community metrics (density and taxon richness) in some systems.
  4. Habitats external to the dry reach, which contribute to community resilience, were invariably inhabited by a greater number of FR taxa than rehydrated sediments. However, rehydrated sediments included several FR taxa that were not found in any other habitats during the dry phase, including families of Coleoptera and Diptera.
  5. Our results indicate the importance of the seedbank as a resistance mechanism for temporary river macroinvertebrates. With climate change scenarios predicting an increase in riverbed drying, maintaining habitats that facilitate the persistence of instream communities during dry phases is an increasing priority. We identified strong relationships between sediment moisture and taxon richness, and river management and rehabilitation activities should therefore aim to retain moisture in drying sediments, by manipulating parameters such as riparian shading.