Recent waves of illegal deforestation for cattle pasture are damaging the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve and Rama-Kriol Territory of Nicaragua, with negative consequences to aquatic ecosystems and the people they support. This study creates a framework for how deforestation from cattle ranching causes shifts in stream community structure, mediated by changes in stream habitat over time. It integrates temporally explicit land use information with stream habitat, macroinvertebrate, freshwater shrimp, and fish community data to assess impacts of cattle ranching on 15 headwater streams. The deforestation history measure (DHM), a product of deforestation amount and time since deforestation for each catchment, strongly predicted stream habitat and biotic responses. Delayed effects of land-use change such as decreased allochthonous inputs (large wood, debris) and increased bank destabilization, sedimentation, flashiness, and the scouring effect were apparent in longer deforested catchments, causing lower richness and density and higher evenness of macroinvertebrates; lower shrimp abundance; and distinct changes in fish and invertebrate community composition. Both recently and longer deforested catchments had degraded riparia and smaller sized game fish. Otherwise, recently deforested catchments were more similar to forested catchments. Nicaragua’s understudied primary rainforest ecosystems should be high priority for research and conservation before they are lost.
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The datasets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.
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Our gratitude goes to the Rama and Kriol community leaders and forest rangers who from the beginning were supportive of our work and consented to and advised on the conduct of the work in their communities and territory. Thanks to the Consejo Regional Autónomo Costa Caribe Sur for the appropriate permits required for the study. Thanks to numerous people from the Rama and Kriol communities near the streams who assisted with the field work, and to the Nestor Gonzalez Aleman and the Centro de Investigaciones Acuáticas de la BICU for their collaboration, field work, and lab space. Many thanks to Monika Springer and her lab team for space and support at the University of Costa Rica in San José, and to their Zoological Museum for a space to keep specimens in perpetuity. Thanks to Dr. Pablo Gutiérrez-Fonseca, Dr. Wills Flowers, Darha Solano-Ulate, Alejandra Jiménez Fretes, Jorge San Jil, Arturo Angulo Sibaja, and Carlos Garita-Alvarado for expert help with identifications. Thanks to Dr. Kendra Cheruvilil, Dr. Chris Jordan, Dr. Eric Benbow, Lauren Phillips, and Dr. Dana Infante for comments on previous versions of this manuscript.
This work was funded by a United States Student Fulbright Award for Nicaragua and Costa Rica from the US Department of State (Institute of International Education), and by the following awards at Michigan State University: The Robert C. Ball and Betty A. Ball Fisheries and Wildlife Fellowship, the Rose Graduate Fellowship Fund in Water Research Graduate Student Award, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Critical Needs Summer Fellowship, and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies Graduate Student Research Grant.
Conflict of interest
The authors did their due diligence to avoid bias or other influences on the quality of the study or the data that could have been caused by study funders/affiliations (U.S. Dept. Of State, MSU). There were no anticipated conflicts of interest.
The code used to analyze data during the current study is available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.
Fish sampling methodology was approved via the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) office at Michigan State University, AUF# 12/17–220-00.
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Guest editors: David J. Hoeinghaus, Jaquelini O. Zeni, Gabriel L. Brejão, Rafael P. Leitão & Renata G. Frederico / Neotropical Stream Fish Ecology in a Changing Landscape
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Betts, J.T., Urquhart, G.R., Román-Heracleo, J. et al. Effects of deforestation from cattle ranching over time on protected rainforest streams in the Rama-Kriol Territory, Nicaragua. Hydrobiologia (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-021-04684-w
- Indio Maíz Biological Reserve
- Land-use change
- Stream habitat