UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Multiple-Stressor Interactions in Tributaries Alter Downstream Ecosystems in Stream Mesocosm Networks Chará-Serna, Ana M.; Richardson, John S.


We studied how multiple-stresssors in tributaries affect function, diversity, and physical habitat of recipient downstream ecosystems. Using a mesocosm model of a stream network, we manipulated sediment and nutrients individually and in combination in tributaries of second-order channels, to test the effect of complex stressor interactions within tributaries on recipient channels. Sedimentation in second-order channels increased with the level of disturbance of the tributaries. Moreover, Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera (EPT) density and EPT richness were higher in second-order channels fed by tributaries where the stressors were applied separately, compared to those fed by tributaries where the stressors were applied simultaneously. Our observations suggest this result was due to the combination of the two stressors within the same tributary reducing EPT drift from the tributaries further than the addition of the stressors in separate tributaries. These results support the hypothesis that cumulative upstream disturbance can influence downstream recipient ecosystems in stream networks. However, contrary to our expectations, most observed effects were due to impacts on dispersal patterns of EPT taxa, rather than downstream accumulation of disturbances throughout the network. Our results underscore the importance of metacommunity frameworks to understand how tributary disturbance may influence population dynamics in downstream ecosystems.

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