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Effects of low flow and co-occurring stressors on structural and functional characteristics of the benthic biofilm in small streams

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Low flow and co-occurring stress is a more and more frequent phenomenon these years in small agricultural streams as a consequence of climate change. In the present study we explored short and longer term structural responses of the stream benthic algae community and biofilm metabolism to multiple stress in small streams applying a semi-experimental approach. We hypothesized that i) a reduction in flow in combination with secondary stress (nutrients and sediments) have immediate effects on the benthic algae community in terms of biomass (chlorophyll a, biovolume), taxonomic and trait (lifeform and size distribution) compositions as well as on metabolism (GPP and CR), and ii) that changes in the benthic algae community persist due to altered environmental settings but that functional redundancy among benthic algae species provides a high level of resilience in metabolism (GPP and CR). Overall, we found that stress imposed by nutrients was less pronounced than stress imposed by fine sediments under low flow, and that nutrient enrichment to some extent mitigated effects of fine sediments. Fine sediment deposition mediated a decline in the fraction of erect algae and/or algae with mucilage stalks but this did not happen under co-occurring stress from both sediments and nutrients. Additionally, fine sediment deposition mediated a decline in GPP of the biofilm, but again this did not happen under co-occurring stress from nutrients. We conclude that 1) the benthic algae community and biofilm metabolism displayed similar resilience to stress imposed by low flow and co-occurring stress from nutrients and sediments on a short and longer time scale and 2) as structure–function adaptations may occur at several trophic levels in the biofilm, more research is needed to explore mechanisms underlying mitigating effects of nutrients in response to sediment deposition under low flow.

Original languageEnglish
Article number139331
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Pages (from-to)139331
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020

    Research areas

  • Biomass, Eutrophication, Fine sediments, GPP, Nutrients, Traits, CHLOROPHYLL-A, AGRICULTURE, BIOVOLUME, ORGANIC-MATTER, COMMUNITIES, NUTRIENT, RESPONSES, SEDIMENT, ALGAL BIOMASS, ECOSYSTEMS, Rivers, Chlorophyll A, Geologic Sediments, Biofilms, Ecosystem

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