Temporal Dynamics of Benthic Macroinvertebrate Communities and Their Response to Elevated Specific Conductance in Headwater Streams of the Appalachian Coalfields
Boehme, Elizabeth A.
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Prior studies have demonstrated Appalachian coal mining often causes elevated specific conductance (SC) in streams, and others have examined SC effects on benthic macroinvertebrate communities using point-in-time SC measurements. However, both SC and benthic macroinvertebrate communities exhibit temporal variation. Twelve Appalachian headwater streams with minimally impacted physical habitat and reference-quality physicochemical conditions (except elevated SC) were sampled ten to fourteen times each for benthic macroinvertebrates between June 2011 and November 2012. In situ loggers recorded SC at 15-minute intervals. Streams were classified by mean SC Level (Reference 17-142 S/cm, Medium 262-648 S/cm, and High 756-1,535 S/cm). Benthic macroinvertebrate community structure was quantified by the Virginia Stream Condition Index and other metrics. Structural metric differences among SC Levels and month of sampling were explored. Reference-SC streams exhibited significantly higher scores on most metrics, supporting previous findings that SC may act as a biotic stressor, even in streams lacking limitations from degradation of physical habitat or other physicochemical conditions. Temporal variation was greatest in Medium-SC streams, which had the most metrics exhibiting significant differences among months and the greatest range of monthly means for six metrics. Metrics involving % Plecoptera and/or % Trichoptera were not sensitive to elevated SC, as Leuctridae and Hydropsychidae exhibited increased abundance in streams with elevated SC. Best scores for benthic macroinvertebrate community metrics differed based on selected metric, SC Level, and month. Consequently, timing of sampling is important, particularly in streams with elevated SC because community metric scores may be impacted by dominant taxa life history patterns.
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