Spatial Variation in Macroinvertebrates in Groundwater-Dominated Rivers: is Community Composition Explained by Discrete or Continuous Riverine Models?

Wright, Kirby
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Benthic macroinvertebrate communities in riverine ecosystems are shaped by both local and large-scale influences. Most models of riverine community structure are grouped into either discrete or continuum conceptual models. However, there is much uncertainty in how these two classes of conceptual models apply to macroinvertebrate communities in the physicochemically consistent headwaters of spring-influenced rivers. This thesis examined benthic macroinvertebrate community composition and biomass among local discrete geomorphic mesohabitats (riffles, runs, and pools) and along an upstream to downstream gradient in two spring-fed rivers in central Texas (San Marcos River and Comal River, Hays County). The goal of my thesis was to examine the relative importance of downstream distance from springhead versus smaller-scale habitat conditions (i.e., mesohabitat units) in explaining the variation in macroinvertebrate community structure in these two spring-based subtropical riverine systems. I hypothesized that, because I sample in the upper physicochemically consistent reaches of both rivers that local mesohabitat conditions would explain more variation in community composition than downstream distance from springhead. I expected this change in community composition would be driven by replacement of taxa rather than differences in taxonomic richness. I also predicted that non-native benthic species would be more evenly distributed throughout the study reaches due to the consistency of physicochemical conditions. Finally, I predicted that the distribution of taxa specific biomass contributions will follow patterns seen in community composition change and will reflect taxonomic density estimates. To test these hypotheses, I sampled macroinvertebrates and local habitat parameters from mesohabitat types along three reaches in the first ~4 km of each river. I also determined biomass of each taxon and community-wide patterns of biomass distribution of benthic macroinvertebrates. I found that variation in taxonomic composition in both rivers was driven to a greater or equal amount by upstream to downstream distance from spring-influence, and by mesohabitat type. Taxonomic diversity did not vary with distance from springhead but was consistently lower in pool mesohabitats when compared to runs and riffles in both rivers. Compositional changes and patterns in b-diversity within mesohabitat types among study reaches indicated that replacement (as opposed to richness differences) was the main mechanism leading to patterns of b-diversity. I found that a non-native snail (Tarebia granifera) and an endemic spring snail (Elimia comalensis) appear to be spatially partitioning habitat in an upstream- to downstream manner. Finally, I found that Tarebia granifera constituted the largest proportion of benthic macroinvertebrate biomass in several study reaches downstream from springheads.
Freshwater, Benthic macroinvertebrates, Biodiversity, Spring communities
Wright, K. (2022). <i>Spatial variation in macroinvertebrates in groundwater-dominated rivers: Is community composition explained by discrete or continuous riverine models?</i> (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.