1. In lowland streams sand sedimentation can produce sand slugs: very slow moving, discrete volumes of sand that are created episodically. Hypothetically, such sedimentation causes losses of habitat and fauna but little is known about the effects of sand slugs. In south-eastern Australia sand slugs are widespread, especially in streams with granitic catchments.
2. This study in north-central Victoria was centred on three streams that rise in the Strathbogie Ranges and flow out onto lowland plains, where they contain sand slugs. Below the sand slugs, the streams are slow-flowing ‘chains of ponds’ with a clay streambed. To correct for potential upstream-downstream confounding of comparisons, two unsanded, nearby streams were included as potential controls. Habitat measurements and faunal samples were taken in Spring 1998, from three sites in the sand slug and three sites in the clay-bed, downstream sections of each impacted stream, as well as from three sites in commensurate upstream and downstream sections of the control streams.
3. The sand-slugged sections had significantly higher velocities, shallower depths and less coarse woody debris than the unsanded downstream sections. Macroinvertebrate taxon richness and abundance showed some significant differences between the sand and clay sections compared with commensurate up- and downstream locations in the control streams. Effects were not uniform, however. In Castle Creek there were no significant differences between the sand and clay sections, in Pranjip-Ninemile Creek taxon richness and abundances were higher in sand than in the clay sections, whereas in Creightons Creek the ‘expected’ results of lower taxon richness and abundance in the sand were found.
4. Of the 40 most common taxa, only eight provided a clear signal related to sand and, of these, one (Slavina sp.) occurred only in the sand slugs, whereas the other seven had significantly higher numbers in the clay sections. Of these taxa, three were ostracods, three were chironomids and one was a tubificid oligochaete, all taxa that live in detritus-rich environments. Overall faunal composition did not show a clear distinction though, between sandy and clay sites. The sand slug community of Creightons Creek was very different from the other communities in all of the streams. There were clear differences in community composition between the sand-affected and the control streams, even for downstream, clay sections, suggesting they cannot act as controls for the impacted sections of the sand-slugged streams.
5. Differences between streams within categories (particularly between sand-slugged streams) and between sites in the same section of stream accounted for most of the variability in species richness and the abundances of each of the 40 most common taxa. That finding was repeated when data were examined at the family level, for both numbers of families per sample and collated lists of families occurring across sites. These results strongly suggest that the effects of sedimentation by sand slugs do not overwhelm background variation in macroinvertebrate density and diversity. Overall the results suggest that many taxa may respond individually, and that there is much variation between sand-affected streams even over relatively small (approximately <10 km) spatial scales.