Biological barriers to restoration: testing the biotic resistance hypothesis in an upland stream recovering from acidification

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Colleges, School and Institutes


The biotic resistance hypothesis provides one of several explanations for the limited biological recovery of streams recovering chemically from acidification. The hypothesis proposes that acidification has changed the presence, abundance and interactions among species in acidified streams to the extent that acid-sensitive colonists cannot re-invade even where acidity has ameliorated. As a first step in testing for biotic resistance in streams, we conducted a field experiment to determine whether the success (growth rate) of acid-sensitive recolonists (mayfly nymphs, Baetis rhodani) is reduced by competition with abundant acid-tolerant residents (stonefly nymphs, Leuctra inermis) in a chemically recovering Welsh stream (UK). Gut contents analysis revealed a marked overlap in resource use between the two species. However, when Baetis was exposed to several (0, 0.25, 0.5 and 1 times ambient) densities of its putative competitor, Leuctra, growth rates of the colonist were not affected by the residents at any of the densities tested. These results do not support the hypothesis that resident species constrain colonist populations by affecting growth rates through competition for limited resources or interference. Further work is required to assess whether independent and/or interactive ecological effects of other common residents might affect colonists in ecosystems recovering from past stressors.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161–170
Issue number1
Early online date26 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2016


  • Acidification, Community, Herbivory, Macroinvertebrates, Stressor