The effects of land use on stream communities in highland tropical Nigeria
Thesis DisciplineBiological Sciences
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Globally, stream invertebrate communities have been shown to respond to habitat degradation as a result of land use hanges. The effects of land use changes on stream communities have been well documented in temperate regions, however, their effects in the tropics are relatively unknown, particularly where land use activities can differ markedly (e.g., tea, maize and Eucalyptus plantations). To understand how land use affects tropical highland Nigerian stream communities, I surveyed 55 second and third order streams across four land use categories, ranging from continuous tropical montane forest to intensive crops/pasture. Streams were sampled in the dry season (October to March) for physico-chemical parameters (i.e., temperature, pH, conductivity, turbidity, current velocity, channel morphometry and riparian characteristics) and ecological characteristics (i.e., fine particulate organic matter [FPOM], coarse particulate organic matter [CPOM], algae and benthic invertebrates). Water temperature in all streams was high (up to 25oC) while levels of dissolved oxygen were frequently low (15–79 %). Physico-chemical conditions varied across land uses with continuous forested streams being cooler, with higher dissolved oxygen, larger bed substrate and more stable channels. Similarly, benthic invertebrate communities showed a strong response with the highest taxonomic diversity in forested streams and the lowest in streams within intensive crops (e.g., cabbage crops). Several of the taxa which occurred in forested streams (e.g., the mayflies Heptageniidae and Oligoneuridae and brachyuran crabs) were rare or absent in streams with more intensive land use. In contrast, damselflies and several true bugs (e.g., Notonectidae and Corixidae) were rare in forested streams but more common in other land uses. In order to test land use impacts on stream processes leaf litter decomposition experiments were carried out in nine streams, three in forest, three in tea plantations and three in maize fields. Leaf breakdown rates were slow compared with other reports for tropical streams, however leaves in forested streams broke down significantly faster (on a degree day basis) than in other land uses. This faster break down seemed to be driven by greater shredder densities in forested streams. Significantly lower densities of invertebrates were found in leaf bags incubated in streams draining tea plantation and maize fields than in forest streams. In the same nine streams food web components were sampled and analysed using gut content and stable isotope (N and C) analyses. Stream food webs in continuous forest were more complex than plantation and maize field streams. Stable isotope analysis indicated that primary consumers assimilated a mixture of autochthonous and allochthonous carbon resources, but the proportion varied among sites. Overall, my results suggest that in Nigerian highland tropical streams more intensive land use activities strongly affect the diversity and composition of benthic stream communities and ecosystem function, in similar ways to those reported in temperate streams.