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Multi-scale assessment of human-induced changes to Amazonian instream habitats

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>10/2016
<mark>Journal</mark>Landscape Ecology
Issue number8
Volume31
Number of pages21
Pages (from-to)1725-1745
Publication statusPublished
Early online date14/06/16
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Context

Land use change and forest degradation have myriad effects on tropical ecosystems. Yet their consequences for low-order streams remain very poorly understood, including in the world´s largest freshwater basin, the Amazon.

Objectives

Determine the degree to which physical and chemical characteristics of the instream habitat of low-order Amazonian streams change in response to past local- and catchment-level anthropogenic disturbances.

Methods

To do so, we collected field instream habitat (i.e., physical habitat and water quality) and landscape data from 99 stream sites in two eastern Brazilian Amazon regions. We used random forest regression trees to assess the relative importance of different predictor variables in determining changes in instream habitat response variables.

Results

Multiple drivers, operating at multiple spatial scales, were important in determining changes in the physical habitat and water quality of the sites. Although we found few similarities in modelled relationships between the two regions, we observed non-linear responses of specific instream characteristics to landscape change; for example 20 % of catchment deforestation resulted in consistently warmer streams.

Conclusions

Our results highlight the importance of local riparian and catchment-scale forest cover in shaping instream physical environments, but also underscore the importance of other land use changes and activities, such as road crossings and upstream agriculture intensification. In contrast to the property-scale focus of the Brazilian Forest code, which governs environmental regulations on private land, our results reinforce the importance of catchment-wide management strategies to protect stream ecosystem integrity.