Hydrology, light and the use of organic and inorganic materials as structuring factors of biological communities in Mediterranean streams

Hydrological disturbances, light availability and nutrients are the most relevant factors determining the structure of the biological communities in Mediterranean rivers. While some hydrological disturbances are able to induce catastrophic effects, which may cause a complete reset in physical and biological conditions, continued enrichment or changes in light availability are factors leading to the progressive shift in the communities of autotrophs and heterotrophs in the systems. Primary production in Mediterranean streams shows relevant seasonal changes which mainly follows the variations in light availability. In most forested streams, the algal community is shade-adapted. Nutrient enrichment (especially phosphorus) leads to marked increases in primary production, but this increase is not lineal and there is a saturation of algal biomass even in the most enriched systems. The heterotrophs (bacteria, fungi) are related to the pattern of DOC availability (which most depends on the seasonal discharge and leaf fall dynamics) and to the available substrata in the stream. It has been repeatedly observed that shorttime increases of extracellular enzyme activities are related to the accumulation of autochthonous (algal) and/or allochthonous (leaves) organic matter on the streambed during spring and summer, this being more remarkable in dry than in wetter years. Flow reduction favours detritus concentration in pools, and the subsequent increase in the density and biomass of the macroinvertebrate community. In Mediterranean streams collectors are accounting for the highest density and biomass, this being more remarkable in the least permanent systems, in accordance with the effect of floods on the organic matter availability. Nutrients, through the effect on the primary producers, also affect the trophic food web in the streams by favouring the predominance of grazers ​
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