The response of perennial and temporary headwater stream invertebrate communities to hydrological extremes

R Stubbington, AM Greenwood, PJ Wood, PD Armitage, John Gunn, AL Robertson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

77 Citations (Scopus)


The headwaters of karst rivers experience considerable hydrological variability, including spates and streambed drying. Extreme summer flooding on the River Lathkill (Derbyshire, UK) provided the opportunity to examine the invertebrate community response to unseasonal spate flows, flow recession and, at temporary sites, streambed drying. Invertebrates were sampled at sites with differing flow permanence regimes during and after the spates. Following streambed drying at temporary sites, dewatered surface sediments were investigated as a refugium for aquatic invertebrates. Experimental rehydration of these dewatered sediments was conducted to promote development of desiccation-tolerant life stages. At perennial sites, spate flows reduced invertebrate abundance and diversity, whilst at temporary sites, flow reactivation facilitated rapid colonisation of the surface channel by a limited number of invertebrate taxa. Following streambed drying, 38 taxa were recorded from the dewatered and rehydrated sediments, with Oligochaeta being the most abundant taxon and Chironomidae (Diptera) the most diverse. Experimental rehydration of dewatered sediments revealed the presence of additional taxa, including Stenophylax sp. (Trichoptera: Limnephilidae) and Nemoura sp. (Plecoptera: Nemouridae). The influence of flow permanence on invertebrate community composition was apparent despite the aseasonal high-magnitude flood events. Flow permanence was also critical in determining the community response to the spate flows. Following streambed drying at temporary sites, the surficial sediments overlying the karstic bedrock functioned as an effective refugium for several taxa. The development of aquatic insects following experimental rehydration indicated that these taxa survived in dewatered sediments as desiccation-resistant eggs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-312
Number of pages14
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2009


  • Refugia
  • Flow permanence
  • Sediment rehydration
  • Spate
  • Disturbance
  • Streambed drying


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