Investigating relationships of benthic invertebrates and sedimentation is challenging because fine sediments act as both natural habitat and potential pollutant at excessive levels. Determining benthic invertebrate sensitivity to sedimentation in forested headwater streams comprised of extreme spatial heterogeneity is even more challenging, especially when associated with a background of historical and intense watershed disturbances that contributed unknown amounts of fine sediments to stream channels. This scenario exists in the Chattahoochee National Forest where such historical timber harvests and contemporary land-uses associated with recreation have potentially affected the biological integrity of headwater streams. In this study, we investigated relationships of sedimentation and the macroinvertebrate assemblages among 14 headwater streams in the forest by assigning 30, 100-m reaches to low, medium, or high sedimentation categories. Only one of 17 assemblage metrics (percent clingers) varied significantly across these categories. This finding has important implications for biological assessments by showing streams impaired physically by sedimentation may not be impaired biologically, at least using traditional approaches. A subsequent multivariate cluster analysis and indicator species analysis were used to further investigate biological patterns independent of sedimentation categories. Evaluating the distribution of sedimentation categories among biological reach clusters showed both within-stream variability in reach-scale sedimentation and sedimentation categories generally variable within clusters, reflecting the overall physical heterogeneity of these headwater environments. Furthermore, relationships of individual sedimentation variables and metrics across the biological cluster groups were weak, suggesting these measures of sedimentation are poor predictors of macroinvertebrate assemblage structure when using a systematic longitudinal sampling design. Further investigations of invertebrate sensitivity to sedimentation may benefit from assessments of sedimentation impacts at different spatial scales, determining compromised physical habitat integrity of specific taxa and developing alternative streambed measures for quantifying sedimentation.
- Assemblage metrics
- Chattahoochee National Forest
- Chattooga River Watershed
- Streambed substrate