The ecology of algal assemblages across a gradient of acid mine drainage stress on the West Coast, South Island, New Zealand
Thesis DisciplineBiological Sciences
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
Physicochemical factors, algal diversity, taxonomic composition and standing crop were investigated across a broad gradient of AMD stress in streams and rivers. 52 sites were surveyed in the vicinity of Greymouth, Reefton, Westport and Blackball, on the West Coast, South Island. Seven sites in the Reefton area were sampled from April 2006 - February 2007 to establish changes over time in benthic algal communities of AMD and reference streams. Longitudinal change and ecosystem recovery were also investigated by sampling eight sites down Devils Creek, Reefton, and two of its tributaries. AMD has negative impacts on algal diversity, generally increases the dominance of certain taxa and, where metal oxide deposition or hydraulic disturbance are not great, can lead to algal proliferations. These proliferations were chlorophyte dominated, predominantly by filamentous Klebsormidium acidophilum. From the general survey a total of 15 taxa were identified from the most severely impacted sites (pH <3.6), which included both acidophiles and acidotolerant algae. Multivariate analyses strongly suggest that pH was the dominant factor controlling taxonomic occurrence of diatoms, macroalgae and the structure of the total assemblage. Other factors such as conductivity, metal oxide deposition, temperature, depth, month, geographic location and altitude were also important. Algal communities changed over time and this became more marked as AMD impact decreased. This was presumably due to AMD stressors reducing diversity, and thus the available scope for assemblage change. Longitudinal differences in assemblage structure within Devils Creek appeared to be in response to dilution of AMD in upper reaches and to changes in natural physical features such as gradient in mid and lower reaches. After a distance of 7.2 km the physicochemical effects of AMD and suspended clay inputs were minimal. At this site and at several previous sites, the assemblage exhibited a degree of recovery towards that found at unimpacted sites. A range of algae found in the broad scale-survey are potentially useful 'sensitive' indicators. These included: Heteroleibleinia purpurascens; Achnanthes oblongella; Oedogonium sp. and Spirogyra sp. In contrast: Euglena mutabilis; Navicula cincta; K. acidophilum; Microspora quadrata and Microthamnion kuetzingianum may be useful 'tolerance' indicators. These data show that AMD has a range of negative impacts on algae, and algae may be a useful tool for monitoring these impacts in West Coast streams.