, Volume 630, Issue 1, pp 299–312 | Cite as

The response of perennial and temporary headwater stream invertebrate communities to hydrological extremes

  • Rachel Stubbington
  • Adam M. Greenwood
  • Paul J. Wood
  • Patrick D. Armitage
  • John Gunn
  • Anne L. Robertson
Primary research paper


The headwaters of karst rivers experience considerable hydrological variability, including spates and streambed drying. Extreme summer flooding on the River Lathkill (Derbyshire, UK) provided the opportunity to examine the invertebrate community response to unseasonal spate flows, flow recession and, at temporary sites, streambed drying. Invertebrates were sampled at sites with differing flow permanence regimes during and after the spates. Following streambed drying at temporary sites, dewatered surface sediments were investigated as a refugium for aquatic invertebrates. Experimental rehydration of these dewatered sediments was conducted to promote development of desiccation-tolerant life stages. At perennial sites, spate flows reduced invertebrate abundance and diversity, whilst at temporary sites, flow reactivation facilitated rapid colonisation of the surface channel by a limited number of invertebrate taxa. Following streambed drying, 38 taxa were recorded from the dewatered and rehydrated sediments, with Oligochaeta being the most abundant taxon and Chironomidae (Diptera) the most diverse. Experimental rehydration of dewatered sediments revealed the presence of additional taxa, including Stenophylax sp. (Trichoptera: Limnephilidae) and Nemoura sp. (Plecoptera: Nemouridae). The influence of flow permanence on invertebrate community composition was apparent despite the aseasonal high-magnitude flood events. Flow permanence was also critical in determining the community response to the spate flows. Following streambed drying at temporary sites, the surficial sediments overlying the karstic bedrock functioned as an effective refugium for several taxa. The development of aquatic insects following experimental rehydration indicated that these taxa survived in dewatered sediments as desiccation-resistant eggs.


Flow permanence Spate Streambed drying Disturbance Refugia Sediment rehydration 



AMG acknowledges the support of a Nuffield Foundation Undergraduate Research Science Bursary (URB\34138) entitled: ‘The survival of macroinvertebrate fauna within ephemeral streams’, under the supervision of PJW to undertake part of this research. We would like to thank Natural England for access to the site and particularly Philip Bowler for support and encouragement throughout the research. Hydrological data (precipitation and river discharge) were kindly provided by the Environment Agency of England and Wales, and by the Limestone Research Group at the University of Birmingham. We thank the associated editor, and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

Supplementary material


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachel Stubbington
    • 1
  • Adam M. Greenwood
    • 1
  • Paul J. Wood
    • 1
  • Patrick D. Armitage
    • 2
  • John Gunn
    • 3
  • Anne L. Robertson
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of GeographyLoughborough UniversityLoughboroughUK
  2. 2.Centre for Ecology and HydrologyFreshwater Biological AssociationEast StokeUK
  3. 3.Limestone Research Group, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamUK
  4. 4.Centre for Research in Ecology and the Environment, School of Human and Life SciencesRoehampton UniversityLondonUK

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