Macroinvertebrate community responses to hydrological controls and groundwater abstraction effects across intermittent and perennial headwater streams

Intermittent rivers comprise a significant proportion of river networks globally and their spatial extent is predicted to increase with rising water abstraction pressures. Despite this, the ecological implications of hydrological modifications within intermittent rivers have received limited research attention. This paper examines macroinvertebrate assemblages across intermittent and perennial sections of headwater streams within the Hampshire Avon catchment (United Kingdom) over a five-year period. The composition of faunal assemblages was quantified in relation to four hydrological metrics: the duration of flowing conditions, the geographical proximity to the nearest perennial source along each watercourse (two observed flow parameters) and two modelled groundwater abstraction influences. The results highlight that macroinvertebrate communities inhabiting sites which dry periodically and are positioned at greater distances (> c. 2.5 km) above the perennial source (the most upstream point of permanent flow within a given year) possessed the highest conservation values. These sites supported species that are rare in many areas of Europe (e.g. Ephemeroptera: Paraletophlebia werneri) or with limited geographical distribution across the United Kingdom (e.g. Trichoptera: Limnephilus bipunctatus). A range of faunal community diversity indices were found to be more sensitive to the antecedent flow duration and distance from the perennial source, rather than any effects of groundwater abstraction. Taxonomic richness responded most strongly to these observed flow parameters and varied more markedly with the distance from the perennial source compared to the antecedent flow duration. Several taxa were significantly associated with the observed flow parameters, particularly those predominantly inhabiting perennially flowing systems. However, the distance that such fauna could migrate into intermittent reaches varied between taxa. This research demonstrates the overriding importance of antecedent flow durations and the geographical proximity to perennial sources on macroinvertebrate communities within intermittent and perennial headwater streams.