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Oecologia. 1992 Feb;89(2):182-194. doi: 10.1007/BF00317217.

Response of invertebrates to lotic disturbance: a test of the hyporheic refuge hypothesis.

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Department of Zoology, University of Maryland, 20742, College Park, MD, USA.


Recovery following hydrological disturbances is usually rapid for lotic invertebrates. Stream ecologists have assumed that recovery is facilitated by behavioral migrations during floods down into the hyporheic zone (the interstitial spaces of a streambed) to seek temporary refuge from possible erosion (the "hyporheic refuge hypothesis"). We provide the first explicit test of this hypothesis by evaluating three predictions of the hypothesis. We coupled field observations of the response of meiofaunal invertebrates to floods with field and flume experiments. The study site was a sandy-bottom stream in northern Virginia. Prediction 1, that loss of fauna from a streambed during floods should be minimal as long as the depth of scour in the streambed is less than the depth of the hyporheic zone, was not supported for any taxon. For two floods which varied considerably in magnitude, 50-90% of the fauna was lost from the bed despite the fact that the depth of scour (10-30 cm) was significantly less than the total depth of the hyporheic zone (50 cm). Prediction 2, that fauna should move deeper into the bed at higher flows, was supported by field observations during only one of two floods and then only for rotifers. In flume experiments that tested for finer scale behavioral movements, significant vertical migrations were found for copepods and chironomids which moved 1.5-3.5 cm downward as mean velocity (3 cm off bottom) was increased from 5-23 cm/s. Movements down by rotifers were not found in the flume experiments. Prediction 3, that the hyporheic zone is the most important source of colonists to defaunated areas, was supported in part by field experiments. The hyporheic route was not the primary route for any taxon but it was as important for the rotifers and copepods as water column or streambed surface routes. We conclude that, even though smallscale (cm's) migrations into the streambed in response to increased flow may be observed for some taxa and the hyporheic zone may serve as a partial source of colonists following disturbances, movements down are not adequate in preventing significant losses of meiofauna during floods.


Floods; Hyporheic; Meiofauna; Refuge; Streams


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