UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Biological Diversity in Headwater Streams Richardson, John Stuart


Headwaters, the sources of all stream networks, provide habitats that are unique from other freshwater environments and are used by a specialised subset of aquatic species. The features of headwaters that provide special habitats include predator-free or competitor-free spaces; specific resources (particularly detrital based); and moderate variations in flows, temperature and discharge. Headwaters provide key habitats for all or some life stages for a large number of species across just about all freshwater phyla and divisions. Some features of headwaters, including isolation and small population sizes, have allowed for the evolutionary radiation of many groups of organisms within and beyond those habitats. As small and easily engineered physical spaces, headwaters are easily degraded by streambank development, ditching and even burial. Headwater streams are among the most sensitive of freshwater ecosystems due to their intimate linkage with their catchments and how easily they are impacted. As a unique ecosystem with many specialist species, headwater streams deserve better stewardship.

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