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Importance of biofilms in stream ecology

It is widely accepted that bacteria and other microorganisms play an important role in streams by recycling organic nutrients through the degradation of plant and animal debris. Microorganisms more recently have also become increasingly recognized as an important food resource in streams, changing current perspectives on the way we view the energy flows within stream food webs. Where once it was believed that invertebrate species in streams consumed plant debris, we now know that many gain their nutrients from the highly nutritious microbial biofilms found on the aquatic surfaces. Such evolving knowledge has profound implications for the management of stream ecosystems.

Much of the practical effort in stream restoration has focused on improving riparian vegetation, managing flows and assessing stream health by observation of macrobenthic invertebrate populations and diversity. Modifying such factors can have a dramatic effect on the stream ecosystem, for example increased shading affects the carbon flux of a stream. To date, however, neither the causes nor the specific implications of these often-dramatic effects on streams ecology and long-term sustainability are clear. For example , if within stream food webs biofilms are intensively grazed by protozoans, heterotrophic algae, macrobenthic invertebrates and some fish, the nature of the biofilm and the relative composition in terms of microbial species will change. Conversely, the quality of a biofilm as a food source for grazing organisms may in turn affect the diversity, abundance and distribution of macrobenthic invertebrates.

 

 

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Stream Biofilm Research Group
School of Biological Sciences
The University of Auckland
3a Symonds Street
Auckland, New Zealand
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streambiofilmgmail.com

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© Stream Biofilm Project, The University of Auckland 2008-2010
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