The Short Term Responses of Benthic Macroinvertebrates to the Removal of Riparian Rhododendron in Southern Appalachian Streams

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Virginia Tech

The southern Appalachian forests of the United States are undergoing changes due to the death of hemlock trees attacked by the hemlock wooly adelgid. This paper addresses the management impacts of Rhododendron maximum removal in the riparian and upslope areas previously occupied by hemlock. This study measured the consequences macroinvertebrates faced due to riparian Rhododendron removal from 300 m reaches of two low order streams. Two additional low order streams served as reference sites for the experiment. The stream macroinvertebrate communities were assessed using a before-after controlled impact model comparing communities between fall 2014 to those from fall 2015 and from spring 2015 to spring 2016. Macroinvertebrate collections consisted of 288 samples with a total of 61,056 individuals. There was a significant increase in collector-gathers in both removal sites, mostly from increases in Ephemerellidae and Chironomidae. There was also a significant decrease in filter feeding organisms in the removal reaches. Traits analysis also revealed that several traits that are shared by collector gathers also increased, e.g., short life cycles that are related to the increase in Chironomidae. Using Nonmetric Multidimensional Scaling (NMDS) and permutational MANOVA significant annual differences in macroinvertebrates were found in all of the stream reaches during both seasons. However, the trait based NMDS and permutational MANOVA found significant change only in one removal site between fall collections based on traits. These finding are consistent with findings from logging and other riparian removal projects; suggesting that the short-term impacts of selective Rhododendron removal on benthic macroinvertebrates are comparable to that of logging activity.

Benthic Macroinvertebrates, Riparian Disturbance, Rhododendron