Land use influences on benthic invertebrate assemblages in southern Appalachian agricultural streams
Bennett, Barbara Loraine Jr.
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I investigated the role of land use in structuring benthic invertebrate assemblages in agricultural streams in the French Broad River drainage in western North Carolina. I sampled six agricultural streams (3 with cleared headwaters and 3 with forested headwaters) at three points along a gradient (headwaters, a midpoint, and a downstream site). At each site, I measured a variety of physico-chemical parameters, including temperature, chlorophyll a, discharge, nutrients, and suspended solids. Invertebrates were sampled at all sites in October 1996 and April 1997. Riparian vegetation was assessed for each site at mutiple spatial scales using GIS data from the 1950s, 1970s, and 1990s. Forested agricultural (FA) streams had more riparian vegetation than cleared agricultural (CA) streams in both the 1950s and the 1970s. Cleared agricultural streams had less organic matter, more primary production, higher nitrates, and warmer temperatures than FA streams. Total and EPT taxa richness was greater in FA streams. Pollution-sensitive Plecoptera were relatively more abundant in FA streams, while tolerant Diptera were more abundant in CA streams. High diversity and Plecoptera abundance was related to high habitat quality, more riparian vegetation, low nitrates, and low summer temperatures. Higher invertebrate diversity was related to the land use 25-50 years as well as the current land use (forested, moderate agriculture, or heavy cattle impact). These results indicate a long-term legacy of agricultural influences on stream invertebrate assemblages.
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