, Volume 73, Issue 4, pp 499-511
Date: 29 Apr 2011

Spatial variability in the hyporheic zone refugium of temporary streams

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Abstract

A key ecological role hypothesized for the hyporheic zone is as a refugium that promotes survival of benthic invertebrates during adverse conditions in the surface stream. Many studies have investigated use of the hyporheic refugium during hydrological extremes (spates and streambed drying), and recent research has linked an increase in the abundance of benthic invertebrates within hyporheic sediments to increasing biotic interactions during flow recession in a temporary stream. This study examined spatial variability in the refugial capacity of the hyporheic zone in two groundwater-dominated streams in which flow permanence varied over small areas. Two non-insect taxa, Gammarus pulex and Polycelis spp. were common to both streams and were investigated in detail. Hydrological conditions in both streams comprised a four-month period of flow recession and low flows, accompanied by reductions in water depth and wetted width. Consequent declines in submerged benthic habitat availability were associated with increases in population densities of mobile benthic taxa, in particular G. pulex. The reduction in the spatial extent of the hyporheic zone was minimal, and this habitat was therefore a potential refugium from increasing biotic interactions in the benthic sediments. Concurrent increases in the hyporheic abundance and hyporheic proportion of a taxon’s total (benthic + hyporheic) population were considered as evidence of active refugium use. Such evidence was species-specific and site-specific, with refugium use being observed only for G. pulex and at sites dominated by downwelling water. A conceptual model of spatial variability in the refugial capacity of the hyporheic zone during habitat contraction is presented, which highlights the potential importance of the direction of hydrologic exchange.

This article belongs to the Special Issue “Recent Perspectives on Temporary River Ecology”.