, Volume 14, Issue 5, pp 647-659

Disturbance regimes, resilience, and recovery of animal communities and habitats in lotic ecosystems

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Disturbance regime is a critical organizing feature of stream communities and ecosystems. The position of a given reach in the river basin and the sediment type within that reach are two key determinants of the frequency and intensity of flow-induced disturbances. We distinguish between predictable and unpredictable events and suggest that predictable discharge events are not disturbances.

We relate the dynamics of recovery from disturbance (i.e., resilience) to disturbance regime (i.e., the disturbance history of the site). The most frequently and predictably disturbed sites can be expected to demonstrate the highest resilience.

Spatial scale is an important dimension of community structure, dynamics, and recovery from disturbance. We compare the effects on small patches (⩽1 m2) to the effects of large reaches at the river basin level. At small scales, sediment movements and scour are major factors affecting the distribution of populations of aquatic insects or algae. At larger scales, we must deal with channel formation, bank erosion, and interactions with the riparian zone that will affect all taxa and processes.

Our understanding of stream ecosystem recovery rests on our grasp of the historical, spatial, and temporal background of contemporary disturbance events.