Seasonal variation of allochthonous and autochthonous energy inputs in an alpine stream
Despite the enormous importance of alpine streams, information about many aspects of their ecology is still insufficient. Alpine lotic systems differ in many environmental characteristics from those lower down, for example because above tree line streams drain catchments where terrestrial vegetation is scarce and allochthonous organic input is expected to be small. The main objectives of this study were to examine seasonal variation of autochthonous and allochthonous energetic inputs and their relationship with macroinvertebrate communities in the Po river, an alpine non-glacial stream (NW Italy). For one year, samplings were monthly performed in a homogeneous 100 m stream reach for discharge, autochthonous energy input (benthic chlorophyll a), allochthonous energy input (coarse particulate organic matter), abundance and structure of benthic macroinvertebrate community. Chlorophyll a concentrations were in the range of what reported for other alpine streams, but presented a time-lag with respect to what has been reported for glacial-fed mountain rivers. CPOM amounts were lower than those in lowland, forested streams of the same area but exhibited an intriguing, different seasonal variability, probably reported for the first time, with a maximum in spring and a minimum in winter. We collected 29,950 macroinvertebrates belonging to 13 families and 10 orders. Benthic communities were essentially dominated by Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera and Diptera. Scrapers was the most important FFG, but also Shredders were well represented. Relationships between chlorophyll a concentrations, CPOM availability and macroinvertebrate community characteristics were analysed and discussed considering the existence of different top-down or bottom-up regulation mechanisms. This study confirms that benthic algae constitute an essential resource for macroinvertebrates in alpine streams above the tree line but also underlines the importance of terrestrial organic input, a previously neglected input in environments above the tree line. The major forces shaping energetic inputs and invertebrate communities seemed to be related to the Alpine climate, and especially to snow accumulation and melting, with the consequent substantial discharge variations.
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