We conducted a comparative study in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area to determine the potential long-term impacts of hemlock forest decline on stream benthic macroinvertebrate assemblages. Hemlock forests throughout eastern North America have been declining because of the hemlock woolly adelgid, an exotic insect pest. We found aquatic invertebrate community structure to be strongly correlated with forest composition. Streams draining hemlock forests supported significantly more total taxa than streams draining mixed hardwood forests, and over 8% of the taxa were strongly associated with hemlock. In addition, invertebrate taxa were more evenly distributed (i.e., higher Simpson's evenness values) in hemlock-drained streams. In contrast, the number of rare species and total densities were significantly lower in streams draining hemlock, suggesting that diversity differences observed between forest types were not related to stochastic factors associated with sampling and that streams draining mixed hardwood forests may be more productive. Analysis of stream habitat data indicated that streams draining hemlock forests had more stable thermal and hydrologic regimes. Our findings suggest that hemlock decline may result in long-term changes in headwater ecosystems leading to reductions in both within-stream (i.e., alpha) and park-wide (i.e., gamma) benthic community diversity.
Additional Publication Details
Influence of eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) forests on aquatic invertebrate assemblages in headwater streams
Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences