SREL Reprint #2479




Influence of riparian alteration on canopy coverage and macrophyte abundance in Southeastern USA blackwater streams

Dean E. Fletcher1, S. David Wilkins1, J. V. McArthur1, and Gary K. Meffe2

1Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia, Drawer E, Aiken, SC 29802 USA
2Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA

Abstract: Two tributary streams (Fourmile branch and Pen branch) located on the US Department of Energy's Savannah River site in west-central South Carolina, USA received thermal discharges from nuclear production reactors for over 30 years. Effluent releases produced stream water temperatures of over 50C and stream flows of ten times above their base level. Consequently, existing plant and animal communities within the stream channels were killed and riparian zones largely destroyed. We compared canopy coverage and macrophyte abundance in these disturbed streams after 7-13 years of ambient flows and compared them to two similar, undisturbed streams. We also examined the effects of a more recent woody canopy removal associated with a restoration effort in 'treated' sections of Pen branch. We collected data in Spring and Fall from May 1995 through May 1997. A gradient in canopy cover existed, ranging from a fully open herbaceous canopy in the treated sections of Pen branch, through a moderately closed canopy of herbaceous plants, shrubs, and willows in the post-thermal 'control' streams, to a nearly closed hardwood tree canopy in the undisturbed streams. Even though Fourmile branch had 3 more years of growth, Pen branch had a more closed upper canopy. Total aquatic macrophyte abundance was negatively related to canopy cover producing nearly the reverse gradient among streams as did the canopy cover. However, control sections of Pen branch had a more closed canopy than Fourmile branch, but total macrophyte abundance was higher in Pen branch. This can be attributed to the presence of submergent macrophytes in Pen branch that were absent in Fourmile branch. Different structural types of macrophytes varied in their degree of limitation by canopy coverage and in their seasonal patterns of growth. Stream habitats remain severely altered due to destruction of the riparian vegetation by past thermal effluents. The full range of effects of the alteration of canopy coverage and the resultant macrophyte abundances on these streams should be the focus of future analyses.

Keywords: Riparian; Disturbance; Macrophytes; Canopy; Stream; Thermal effluents; Savannah river

SREL Reprint #2479

Fletcher, D. E., S. D. Wilkins, J V. McArthur, and G. K. Meffe. 2000. Influence of riparian alteration on canopy coverage and macrophyte abundance in Southeastern USA blackwater streams. Ecological Engineering 15:S67-S78.

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