Shifting stream planform state decreases stream productivity yet increases riparian animal production

Michael P. Venarsky, David M. Walters, Robert O. Hall, Bridget Livers, Ellen Wohl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the Colorado Front Range (USA), disturbance history dictates stream planform. Undisturbed, old-growth streams have multiple channels and large amounts of wood and depositional habitat. Disturbed streams (wildfires and logging < 200 years ago) are single-channeled with mostly erosional habitat. We tested how these opposing stream states influenced organic matter, benthic macroinvertebrate secondary production, emerging aquatic insect flux, and riparian spider biomass. Organic matter and macroinvertebrate production did not differ among sites per unit area (m−2), but values were 2 ×–21 × higher in undisturbed reaches per unit of stream valley (m−1 valley) because total stream area was higher in undisturbed reaches. Insect emergence was similar among streams at the per unit area and per unit of stream valley. However, rescaling insect emergence to per meter of stream bank showed that the emerging insect biomass reaching the stream bank was lower in undisturbed sites because multi-channel reaches had 3 × more stream bank than single-channel reaches. Riparian spider biomass followed the same pattern as emerging aquatic insects, and we attribute this to bottom-up limitation caused by the multi-channeled undisturbed sites diluting prey quantity (emerging insects) reaching the stream bank (riparian spider habitat). These results show that historic landscape disturbances continue to influence stream and riparian communities in the Colorado Front Range. However, these legacy effects are only weakly influencing habitat-specific function and instead are primarily influencing stream–riparian community productivity by dictating both stream planform (total stream area, total stream bank length) and the proportional distribution of specific habitat types (pools vs riffles).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-180
Number of pages14
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1 2018


  • Disturbance
  • Ecosystem size
  • Fluvial geomorphology
  • Legacy effect
  • Subsidy


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