Habitat development and species arrival drive succession of the benthic invertebrate community in restored urban streams

Background: Urban streams are characterised by species-poor and frequently disturbed communities. The recovery of heavily polluted urban streams is challenging but the simple community structure makes recolonisation patterns more transparent. Therefore, they are generally applicable model systems for recolonisation of restored streams. Principal questions of stream restoration concern the drivers and patterns of recolonisation processes. Rarely, recolonisation of restored streams is recorded for a sufficient time to observe patterns of habitat and community development in detail. Over 10 years, we monitored benthic habitat changes and macroinvertebrate communities of eight restored sites in an urban stream network that was formerly used as an open sewer and thus, almost uninhabitable for macroinvertebrates prior to restoration. We analysed changes in environmental variables and communities with a selection of multi-variate analyses and identified indicator species in successional stages.

Results: Proportions of stony substrate and conductivity decreased over time since restoration, while the riparian vegetation cover increased along with the amount of sandy substrate. The communities fluctuated strongly after restoration but began to stabilise after around eight years. TITAN analysis identified 9 species, (e.g. the mayfly Cloeon dipterum and the beetle Agabus didymus), whose abundances decreased with time since restoration, and 19 species with an increasing abundance trend (e.g. several Trichopteran species, which colonised once specific habitats developed). Woody riparian vegetation cover and related variables were identified as major driver for changes in species abundance. In the last phase of the observation period, a dry episode resulted in complete dewatering of some sites. These temporarily dried sections were recolonised much more rapidly compared to the recolonisation following restoration.

Conclusions: Our results underline that community changes following urban stream restoration are closely linked to the evolving environmental conditions of restored streams, in particular habitat availability initialised by riparian vegetation. It takes about a decade for the development of a rich and stable community. Even in streams that were almost completely lacking benthic invertebrates before restoration, the establishment of a diverse macroinvertebrate community is possible, underlining the potential for habitat restoration in formerly heavily polluted urban areas.


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