Assessment of disturbance at three spatial scales in two large tropical reservoirs

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Letícia de Morais
Bárbara de Oliveira Sanches
Gilmar B. Santos *
Philip R. Kaufmann
Robert M. Hughes
Joseline Molozzi
Marcos Callisto
(*) Corresponding Author:
Gilmar B. Santos |


Large reservoirs are an increasingly common feature across tropical landscapes because of their importance for water supply, flood control and hydropower, but their ecological conditions are infrequently evaluated. Our objective was to assess the range of disturbances for two large tropical reservoirs and their influences on benthic macroinvertebrates. We tested three hypotheses: i) a wide variation in the level of environmental disturbance can be observed among sites in the reservoirs; ii) the two reservoirs would exhibit a different degree of disturbance level; and iii) the magnitude of disturbance would influence the structure and composition of benthic assemblages. For each reservoir, we assessed land use (macroscale), physical habitat structure (mesoscale), and water quality (microscale). We sampled 40 sites in the littoral zones of both Três Marias and São Simão Reservoirs (Minas Gerais, Brazil). At the macroscale, we measured cover percentages of land use categories in buffer areas at each site, where each buffer was a circular arc of 250 m. At the mesoscale, we assessed the presence of human disturbances in the riparian and drawdown zones at the local (site) scale. At the microscale, we assessed water quality at each macroinvertebrate sampling station using the Micro Disturbance Index (MDI). To evaluate anthropogenic disturbance of each site, we calculated an integrated disturbance index (IDI) from a buffer disturbance index (BDI) and a local disturbance index (LDI). For each site, we calculated richness and abundance of benthic macroinvertebrates, Chironomidae genera richness, abundance and percent Chironomidae individuals, abundance and percent EPT individuals, richness and percent EPT taxa, abundance and percent resistant individuals, and abundance and percent non-native individuals. We also evaluated the influence of disturbance on benthic macroinvertebrate assemblages at the entire-reservoir scale. The BDI, LDI and IDI had significantly greater average scores at São Simão than at Três Marias Reservoir. The significantly greater differences in IDI scores for São Simão Reservoir were reflected in 10 of the 13 Ekman-Birge dredge biotic metrics and in 5 of 13 of the kick-net biotic metrics. We also observed clear ranges of disturbances within both reservoirs at macro (BDI) and mesoscales (LDI) and in water quality, but an insignificant range in MDI results. However, we found no significant relationship between the benthic macroinvertebrate metrics and the BDI, LDI, and IDI among sites within a single reservoir. Hence, we believe that benthic macroinvertebrate distributions in those reservoirs were influenced by other factors or that reservoir macroinvertebrates (dominated by chironomids) were poor indicators of disturbance at the site scale.

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