Twenty-five patches (1 m2) of natural stream substratum in the Acheron River, Victoria, were physically disturbed by kicking and raking during winter 1986 and summer 1987. The macroinvertebrate composition of these disturbed patches was examined at various times over the following 71 days, and compared with adjacent undisturbed control patches sampled concurrently.
The disturbance did not alter the particle-size distribution (> 150 μm) of the disturbed patches. Organic material was reduced in the disturbed patches by about 70% in each season, but returned to control levels within 21 days in winter and 8 days in summer.
The total number of species, and the density of species and individuals were all significantly reduced by the disturbance. Recovery of species density was complete after 21 days during winter and 8 days during summer, and the density of individuals recovered after 71 days during winter and 8 days during summer. The differences were due to the slower colonization rate of Chironomidae in winter, either because of a lower drift rate, or a slower recovery of detritus in winter.
Individual species showed variations in colonization patterns, most increasing steadily at various rates, with some declining after an initial rapid increase (e.g. Baetis pp.). In the latter case, the density changes were mirrored in the control patches, emphasizing the need to take control samples concurrently with experimental samples.
In each season, the species remaining immediately following the disturbance, and those subsequently colonizing the disturbed patches were in the same rank order (Spearman Rank correlation) as their occurrence in the control patches, suggesting that no taxa were differentially affected by the treatment.
No evidence was found to allow the application of the Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis to explain species diversity at the scale of this study. It appears that current hypotheses developed to explain the relationship between diversity and disturbance in sessile communities do not apply to highly mobile communities in streams.