Riparian forest cover at multiple scales
England, Laura Erin
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Strong connectivity between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems means that landscape alterations have the potential to profoundly impact freshwaters. Effective management of riparian buffers to minimize these impacts requires identification of buffer attributes that most influence stream ecosystems. This research assessed instream habitat conditions, aquatic assemblages, and food webs in a set of headwater streams comprising a gradient in forest cover on multiple scales. Network scale riparian buffer width and continuity and watershed land cover were correlated with instream physical/chemical variables that were strong predictors of macroinvertebrate and fish assemblages. Results indicated that land cover ultimately influenced stream biota via changes in habitat quality. Stable isotope analyses of food webs suggested that reductions in forest cover on multiple scales led to a reduced dependence of headwater food webs on terrestrial organic matter subsidies. Thus, continuous and wide riparian forests along entire stream networks may be critical for sustaining stream ecosystems.