Aquatic Sciences

, Volume 79, Issue 3, pp 459–471 | Cite as

Wood mitigates the effect of hydropeaking scour on periphyton biomass and nutritional quality in semi-natural flume simulations

  • Matthew J. Cashman
  • Gemma L. Harvey
  • Geraldene Wharton
  • Maria Cristina Bruno
Research Article


The daily fluctuating discharge from hydroelectric power plants, known as hydropeaking, has been shown to cause catastrophic drift in aquatic insect communities and limit secondary production, but relatively little attention has been given to its effects on periphyton, an important food resource for consumers. We simulated daily 5-h hydropeaking events over the course of 5 days in spring and summer in an open air, experimental flume system fed by a pristine 2nd order stream in the Italian Alps. We hypothesized that hydropeaking would suppress periphyton biomass and especially nutritional quality (i.e., fatty acid content). Hydropeaking resulted in decreased periphyton Chl-a and AFDM on tiles, but there was no corresponding loss on wood. Hydropeaking did not alter periphyton elemental nutrient stoichiometry but led to a disproportionate loss of periphyton fatty acid content on both substrates. Ordination of overall fatty acid profiles indicated different periphyton fatty acid profiles by substrate and a shift from physiologically important highly-unsaturated fatty acids to non-essential saturated fatty acids after hydropeaking. These results suggest that hydropeaking may have the potential to depress primary biomass and nutritional quality in downstream ecosystems, and that availability of wood substrate may mitigate part, but not all, of this effect. Since food nutritional quality, especially fatty acid content, has been suggested to be a limiting resource on production in aquatic systems, this may generate an indirect and potentially overlooked limiting effect on aquatic consumers in hydropeaking-impacted alpine rivers.


Fatty acids Hydropeaking Hydropower Wood Alpine stream Artificial flumes 



The authors wish to thank the Servizio Bacini Montani of the Autonomous Province of Trento for building and maintaining the flumes, Lorenzo Forti and Martino Salvaro (Department of Environmental, Civil and Mechanical Engineering of the University of Trento) for their help in setting up and conducting the experiments, and Bruno Maiolini (Fondazione E. Mach), Stefano Mauro, Lorenzo Colaianni, Andrea Bertoncin, Mauro Carolli, Sonia Endrizzi, and Sofia Biffi for help in the field. We would also like to thank Lorena Reiss (Fondazione E. Mach), Angela Krüger (IGB), and Katrin Premke (IGB) for assistance in the lab. This research was carried out within the Erasmus Mundus Doctorate Program SMART ( funded by the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) of the European Commission.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of GeographyQueen Mary University of LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Sustainable Agro-ecosystems and Bioresources DepartmentFondazione E. Mach, IASMA Research and Innovation CentreSan Michele all’adigeItaly
  3. 3.Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB)BerlinGermany

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