, Volume 632, Issue 1, pp 189-200
Date: 15 Jun 2009

Spatial and seasonal variations in benthic algal assemblages in streams in monsoonal Hong Kong

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Abstract

Samples from stone surfaces were collected in pools within four unpolluted hillstreams (two shaded and two unshaded) in monsoonal Hong Kong (lat. 23°N) to elucidate the extent of spatial (within and among streams) and temporal (seasonal) variations in algal biomass and assemblage composition. Sampling continued for over 12 months, incorporating the dry season when streams were at baseflow, and the wet season when spates were frequent. We anticipated that algal biomass would be lower in shaded streams and during the wet season, with associated seasonal differences in assemblage composition or relative abundance of different growth forms (e.g. erect versus prostrate). Benthic chlorophyll a (a proxy for algal biomass) varied among streams from an annual mean of 11.0–22.3 mg m−2. Dry-season standing stocks were 18% higher than during the wet season when spate-induced disturbance reduced algal standing stocks. Algal biomass varied significantly at the stream scale, but not at the pool scale, and was lower in unshaded streams, where standing stocks may have been limited by high densities of algivorous balitorid loaches (mainly Pseudogastromyzon myersi). An overriding effect of grazers on algal biomass could also have reduced variations resulting from spate-induced disturbance. Significant differences in assemblage composition among streams, which were dominated by diatoms and cyanobacteria (totally 82 taxa) were not systematically related to shading conditions. Seasonal variations in algal assemblages were statistically significant but rather minor, and did not involve major shifts in composition or growth form caused by spate-induced disturbance. The abundance of filamentous cyanobacteria in all the streams may have been due to ‘gardening’ by balitorid loaches that removed erect or stalked diatoms and favoured cyanobacteria that persist through basal regeneration of filaments. This explanation requires validation through manipulative experiments.

Handling editor: Luis Mauricio Bini