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Quantifying riverine macroinvertebrate community responses to water resource management operations

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posted on 27.06.2018 by James C. White
Water resource management operations have significantly modified river flow regimes globally, prompting widespread lotic ecosystem responses. There is a growing need to better understand how increasingly prevalent hydrological alterations to riverine systems will affect biota dependent on specific elements of river flow regimes. This thesis examines macroinvertebrate community responses to river flow regimes modified by various water resource management operations across southwest England though four detailed investigations. The first study examines the influence of river impoundments and how macroinvertebrate communities differ between regulated and non-regulated sections of river. Findings from this investigation highlight that flow regulation alters the structure and function of faunal assemblages due to significant changes to the flow regime, rather than stream temperature modifications associated with the reservoirs. The second study focusses on groundwater dominated headwater streams transitioning from temporary (i.e. reaches periodically drying positioned furthest upstream) to perennial flow conditions which are subjected to variable groundwater abstraction intensities. The results indicate that macroinvertebrate communities respond significantly to the duration of antecedent flowing conditions and the spatial proximity of sampling sites to perennial sources; but faunal assemblages are not sensitive to groundwater abstraction. The third study examines how communities inhabiting different organic and mineralogical lotic habitats responded to multiple river flow properties (hydrological indices, anthropogenic flow alteration measures and hydraulic variables) in perennial, groundwater dominated systems. The findings highlight that faunal assemblages are most responsive to local hydraulic conditions measured at the point of sampling, rather than antecedent hydrological conditions. The influence of hydraulic properties on communities differs between lotic habitats, highlighting that mineralogical and organic characteristics of riverbeds strongly mediate how biota respond to flow. The final study presents the results of a long-term (1995-2016), region-wide (spanning Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire) examination of macroinvertebrate communities inhabiting groundwater dominated rivers and their responses to hydrological variability (including extreme low- and high-flow events) and anthropogenic flow alterations. The results indicate that indices characterising the proportion of discharge added to (through effluent water returns and low-flow alleviation strategies) or removed from the river (via groundwater abstraction) exert profound effects on faunal assemblages over long-term periods. These results provide empirical evidence that reductions in river discharges via groundwater abstraction of approximately 15% have no perceptible negative ecological effects on macroinvertebrate communities. The results from the four detailed investigations are used to develop conceptual models to illustrate how research undertaken within this thesis can be applied more widely. The findings and study designs presented within this thesis could inform surface and groundwater water resource management operations and underpin the development of environmental flow methodologies required to conserve riverine ecosystems globally.





  • Social Sciences


  • Geography and Environment


© James White

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This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at:

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.




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