Mechanisms of benthic algal recovery following spates: comparison of simulated and natural events

Christopher G. Peterson, Amy C. Weibel, Nancy Grimm, Stuart G. Fisher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


We conducted a manipulative field experiment to examine individual and interactive effects of scour and short-term nutrient enrichment (4 h exposure) on postspate recovery of benthic algae in a desert stream. We then compared recovery from these simulated-spate conditions to algal recovery patterns following a natural spate that increased water-column nutrient levels for 2 weeks. That event differentially scoured communities on artificial substrata in place for a long-term experiment, significantly reducing biomass in 49-day-old communities but causing no significant reduction of biomass in older, 133-day-old communities. Thus, we were able to examine recovery of scoured and non-scoured benthic algal communities under natural post-spate conditions. Both natural and simulated spates reduced actual and relative abundances of diatoms within communities. In the manipulative experiment, scoured communities accrued biomass more rapidly than those not subjected to scour, but short-term enrichment had not effect. Accrual of diatoms and green algae was stimulated by the scour manipulations, while cyanobacteria maintained equal rates of growth in all treatments. Following the natural spate, diatom and green-algal densities increased in scoured communities, but recovery of algal biomass was slow on both scoured and non-scoured substrata, primarily because cyanobacteria, the dominant algal group on all tiles, did not increase under exposure to highly nitrate-enriched waters. Rates of algal cell accrual were inversely correlated with the amount of algal biomass present at the start of a recovery sequence. Algal immigration rates measured immediately after the natural spate and during an interflood period in the same season did not differ, indicating that the algal drift pool was not augmented by disturbance. Benthic algal recovery following spates is strongly influenced by the degree of scour generated by the event, but recovery patterns are also affected by the length of post-spate enrichment and the taxonomic composition of the affected community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)280-290
Number of pages11
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Aug 1 1994


  • Benthic algae
  • Enrichment
  • Recovery
  • Scour
  • Spates

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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