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Drought and postdrought recovery cycles in an intermittent Mediterranean stream: structural and functional aspects

The effects of the intensity of seasonal droughts on stream ecosystems were studied in the Fuirosos, an intermittent forested Mediterranean stream. Macroinvertebrate community structure and stream ecosystem metabolism were measured during seasonal summer droughts in 2001, 2002, and 2003. Ecosystem metabolism was profoundly affected by stream intermittency. Organic matter that accumulated during the dry period enhanced ecosystem respiration during the postdrought recovery. Highest biotic diversity was found at low water levels as the stream dried and contracted. Macroinvertebrate community response to drying was stepped and apparently defined by thresholds of transition from drying to cessation of flow and from the dry phase to restoration of flow. Environmental conditions changed markedly with cessation of flow, causing large changes in community structure during 2001 and 2003 (dry years). Drying caused an increase in macroinvertebrate density that peaked in isolated pools soon after flow ceased, but then decreased rapidly because of the physicochemical changes associated with fragmentation of the watercourse. The macroinvertebrate community at the end of the summer dry phase (when flow resumed) differed from the community that had been present before drying began. Differences in community structure during the summer dry period were not as marked in 2002 (a wet year) as in 2001/2003. The influence of drought on the macroinvertebrate community differed across substrata. Drying led to significant changes in density on cobbles and leaves, but not on sand. Few taxa resisted drying, and resilience to drying was the dominant response to disturbance in the Fuirosos.