Original Articles

THE BENTHIC MACROINVERTEBRATE FAUNA OF A SOUTH AFRICAN MOUNTAIN STREAM AND ITS RESPONSE TO FIRE


Abstract

The effects of a late-summer prescribed burn on the temperature and benthic macroinvertebrate fauna of a south-western Cape mountain stream were investigated over a period of 12 months. Temperature and discharge regimes appear well-defined and relatively predictable from year to year. As in other mediterranean-type ecosystems, seasonal changes in the structure of the invertebrate community and the relative abundance of different feeding groups appear to be associated primarily with changes in the physical environment. Distinctive summer and winter communities were identified, with chironomids dominating the fauna in summer and simuliids dominant in winter. Although the riparian vegetation was only slightly damaged by the fire, a heavy, aseasonal leaf-fall occurred shortly afterwards. The canopy remained sparse for approximately four months. Stream temperature in the post-burn year was not demonstrably affected by increased exposure to solar radiation, however, probably because the canopy remained open during the winter months. The fire appeared to have little effect on the invertebrate fauna. Apart from five rare elements of the biota, all species recorded in the pre-burn year were present in the post-burn year and in similar densities. It is concluded that the riparian vegetation is of major importance in maintaining the integrity of the stream environment.

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