Benthic metabolism in two turbid dryland rivers
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1. Australian dryland rivers have among the most variable discharge of any rivers worldwide and are characterized by extended periods of no flow during which aquatic habitat contracts into isolated waterholes. Despite naturally high turbidity, benthic primary production is known to be the main source of carbon to waterhole food webs. The objective of this study was to quantify rates of benthic metabolism and identify factors influencing these rates in two Australian dryland rivers, the Cooper Creek and the Warrego River. 2. Both rivers have similar variable hydrology and high levels of turbidity (photic depths < 0.4 m), but fish abundance in Cooper Creek is 10 times than that of the Warrego River. Therefore, an additional aim of the study was to determine if fish abundances reflected underlying differences in benthic primary production. 3. Benthic gross primary production (GPP), benthic respiration, nutrient concentrations and light penetration were measured immediately after flow had ceased ('post-flow') and after at least 2 months of zero flow ('no-flow') in 15 waterholes from each river. A subset of four waterholes from each river was sampled on two additional occasions to determine if patterns were consistent over time. 4. Cooper Creek generally had higher rates of GPP and a more autotrophic benthic zone than the Warrego River. As a result, the expected positive relationship between fish abundance and GPP was generally observed at a broad catchment scale. 4. Light was the major control in benthic GPP in both rivers, as nutrient concentrations were high on all sampling occasions. However, for similar values of photic depth, GPP was greater in Cooper Creek than in the Warrego River. This suggests that more frequent disturbance of the littoral zone may inhibit biofilm development in waterholes of the Warrego River. 5. Although flow variability in dryland rivers is extreme compared with other rivers worldwide, cycles of expansion and contraction of aquatic habitat in these two rivers were associated with a shift in the dominance of regional scale (subcatchments contributing to river flow) versus local scale (waterhole morphology) influences on ecosystem functioning, similar to floodplain rivers in tropical and temperate regions. 頲008 The Authors.
Copyright 2009 Blackwell Publishing. This is the pre-peer reviewed version of the following article: Benthic metabolism in two turbid dryland rivers, Freshwater Biology Volume 54, Issue 2, 2009, 236-253, which has been published in final form at 10.1111/j.1365-2427.2008.02104.x.