The influence of upstream forest on macroinvertebrate communities in pastoral landscapes
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
The conversion of native forest to agricultural land has been an on-going issue threatening the health of New Zealand’s freshwater systems. However, despite the fact that this has been occurring since early European settlement, our understanding of the mechanistic relationships between riparian vegetation and stream condition are poorly developed. This research investigated: (i) how forests affect downstream benthic macroinvertebrate communities in pasture and the environmental factors driving community change; (ii) how upstream forest size impacted the rate of change in downstream environmental drivers and associated macroinvertebrate community structure; and (iii) whether the addition of coarse particulate organic matter (a single potential driver of forest community structure) can reset community structure to that of a forested state. Physico-chemical conditions, basal energy resources, and macroinvertebrates were surveyed in several New Zealand headwater streams. At Mount Egmont National Park, 10-12 sites were surveyed across a longitudinal forest-pasture gradient in each of five streams flowing from continuous forest to dairy farmland. My results showed that forests can have marked effects downstream. From the forest edge, water temperatures increased consistently, with a rise of approximately 0.2ºC per 100 m of downstream distance. By contrast, coarse particulate organic matter (CPOM) decreased rapidly downstream of the forest, however, low levels of “forest-derived” CPOM were still present 300m downstream from the forest edge. These environmental changes drove significant shifts in macroinvertebrate community structure. Moreover, pasture communities were markedly different from those in forest, despite being only 100 m from the forest edge. In particular, total macroinvertebrate and EPT richness and densities decreased, and communities shifted from evenly distributed allochthonous-based communities to autochthonous-based communities, highly dominated by molluscs (e.g., Potamopyrgus spp.) Subsequent surveys of 6-8 sites across a longitudinal forest-pasture gradient in each of eleven streams flowing from forest fragments of different sizes into grazed pastures throughout the Canterbury region, indicated that stream temperature increased more rapidly downstream of small- and medium-sized fragments, than larger fragments. A Berger-Parker dominance index also indicated that macroinvertebrates responded principally to water temperature, with communities being more highly dominated by temperature-tolerant molluscs in streams flowing from small-sized forest fragments. Several headwater streams in Canterbury were also highly retentive, with marked CPOM rarely exported beyond 50 m downstream of the forest. Experimental additions of leaf litter to the pasture reaches of the same streams dramatically increased amounts of stored benthic CPOM. Although non-significant, trends indicated that EPT and shredder densities increased at litter addition sites, providing promise that CPOM can function as a mechanism directly enhancing healthy stream communities. My findings support the contention that when the replanting of entire stream reaches is infeasible, the use of riparian management strategies which focus on the planting of intermittent patches along stream banks can potentially improve stream habitat and community health downstream.