Effects of watershed and in-stream liming on macroinvertebrate communities in acidified tributaries to an Adirondack lake

Ecological Indicators

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Liming techniques are being explored as a means to accelerate the recovery of aquatic biota from decades of acid deposition in many regions. The preservation or restoration of native sportfish populations has typically been the impetus for liming programs, and as such, less attention has been given to its effects on other biological assemblages such as macroinvertebrates. Furthermore, the differing effects of various lime application strategies such as in-stream and watershed applications are not well understood. In 2012, a program was initiated using in-stream and aerial (whole-watershed) liming to improve water quality and Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) recruitment in three acidified tributaries of a high-elevation Adirondack lake in New York State. Concurrently, macroinvertebrates were sampled annually between 2013 and 2016 at 3 treated sites and 3 untreated reference sites to assess the effects of each liming technique on this community. Despite improvements in water chemistry in all three limed streams, our results generally suggest that neither liming technique succeeded in improving the condition of macroinvertebrate communities. The watershed application caused an immediate and unsustained decrease in the density of macroinvertebrates and increase in the proportion of sensitive taxa. These changes were driven primarily by a one-year 71 percent reduction of the acid-tolerant Leuctra stoneflies and likely represent an initial chemistry shock from the lime application rather than a recovery response. The in-stream applications appeared to reduce the density of macroinvertebrates, particularly in one stream where undissolved lime covered the natural substrate. The close proximity of our study sites to the in-stream application points (50 and 1230 m) may partly explain these negative effects. Our results are consistent with prior studies of in-stream liming which indicate that this technique often fails to restore macroinvertebrate communities to a pre-acidification condition, especially at distances <1.5 km downstream of the lime application point. The inability of either liming technique to improve the condition of macroinvertebrate communities may be partly explained by the persistence of acidic episodes in all three streams. This suggests that in order to be effective, liming programs should attempt to eliminate even temporary episodes of unsuitable water chemistry rather than just meeting minimal criteria the majority of the time. Because watershed liming produced a more stable water chemistry regime than in-stream liming, this technique may have greater future potential to eliminate toxic episodes and accelerate the recovery of acid-impacted macroinvertebrate communities.

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Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
Effects of watershed and in-stream liming on macroinvertebrate communities in acidified tributaries to an Adirondack lake
Series title:
Ecological Indicators
February 2018
Year Published:
Contributing office(s):
New York Water Science Center
10 p.
First page:
Last page:
United States
New York
Other Geospatial:
Honnedaga Lake