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Keywords

land use, biotic assessment, fishes, macroinvertebrates

Abstract

Agricultural land use is known to degrade aquatic systems with high inputs of nutrients, sediments, and pesticides. Increased nutrients can lead to increased algal growth and thus possible hypoxic conditions in slow moving water, while increased sediment loads have been shown to obstruct light and reduce substrate stability. These conditions negatively impact primary producers, macroinvertebrates, and fish. However, small-scale changes in land use can subsidize an aquatic ecosystem instead, where an increase in nutrients allows nutrient-limited biota to flourish, and minor increases in sedimentation may help support populations of collector-filterers. The stimulation in performance caused by small disturbances is part of the subsidy-stress gradient, where increasing perturbation subsidizes an ecosystem until a certain threshold is reached, at which a decline in performance and increased variability starts to occur. The North and South Sylamore watersheds in north Arkansas provide a useful template to investigate the subsidy-stress gradient in relation to land use. North Sylamore flows through the Ozark National Forest and has a heavily forested catchment, while South Sylamore flows through mostly private land, some of which is pasture (23%). Physicochemical, macroinvertebrate, and fish data were collected from multiple sites within each watershed to determine if South Sylamore is exhibiting a response to pasture/agriculture characteristic of a subsidy-stress gradient. Sites within South Sylamore had significantly higher nitrate levels, larger macroinvertebrate populations dominated by collector-filterers, and greater abundance of algivorous fish, suggesting South Sylamore may be subsidized by the surrounding pastoral lands. However, South Sylamore also had a significantly lower proportional abundance of sensitive macroinvertebrate taxa and more unique tolerant fish taxa, suggesting South Sylamore is experiencing stress as well. Habitat quality of South Sylamore could be improved by restoration of trees within the riparian zone. Monitoring aquatic systems for subsidy-stress responses can inform restoration/management decisions and guide intervention prior to watersheds and aquatic communities becoming overly stressed.

Erratum

Due to a submission error, an earlier version of this manuscript was entered into the hard copy print edition of Volume 73. The manuscript on this website is the corrected and current version of this article.

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