The complex effects of disturbances on ecological communities can be further complicated by subsequent perturbations within an ecosystem. We investigated how wildfire interacts with annual variations in peak streamflow to affect the stability of stream macroinvertebrate communities in a central Idaho wilderness, USA. We conducted a 4-year retrospective analysis of unburned (n = 7) and burned (n = 6) catchments, using changes in reflectance values (??NBR) from satellite imagery to quantify the percentage of each catchment's riparian and upland vegetation that burned at high and low severity. For this wildland fire complex, increasing riparian burn severity and extent were associated with greater year-to-year variation, rather than a perennial increase, in sediment loads, organic debris, large woody debris (LWD) and undercut bank structure. Temporal changes in these variables were correlated with yearly peak flow in burned catchments but not in unburned reference catchments, indicating that an interaction between fire and flow can result in decreased habitat stability in burned catchments. Streams in more severely burned catchments exhibited increasingly dynamic macroinvertebrate communities and did not show increased similarity to reference streams over time. Annual variability in macroinvertebrates was attributed, predominantly, to the changing influence of sediment, LWD, riparian cover and organic debris, as quantities of these habitat components fluctuated annually depending on burn severity and annual peak streamflows. These analyses suggest that interactions among fire, flow and stream habitat may increase inter-annual habitat variability and macroinvertebrate community dynamics for a duration approaching the length of the historic fire return interval of the study area. ?? 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Additional publication details
Fire, flow and dynamic equilibrium in stream macroinvertebrate communities