Relationships between Land Use and Stream Ecosystems: A Multistream Assessment in Southwestern Michigan
Ashley H. Moerke and Gary A. Lamberti
Abstract.—Ecologists recognize that surrounding land use can influence the structure and function of aquatic ecosystems, but few studies have explicitly examined the relative effects of different types of land use on stream ecosystems. We quantified the relationships between different land uses (forested, urban, agricultural with or without riparian buffers) and stream physicochemical variables and resident fish assemblages in 21 southwestern Michigan streams. These streams were located within a single basin (Kalamazoo River) and ecoregion to minimize differences in natural landscape conditions. Streams responded to a gradient of land use, with forested streams having the least degraded water quality, physical habitat, and fish assemblages, and agricultural streams lacking buffers being the most degraded. Urban and agricultural streams with buffers displayed characteristics intermediate to forested and agricultural streams lacking buffers. In general, habitat complexity and water quality declined across this land-use gradient from forested to agricultural streams, whereas fish density, richness, and dominance by tolerant species increased along the land-use gradient. Although urban streams had lower percentages of altered land use (i.e., <40% urban) in their catchments compared to agricultural streams (i.e., >50% agriculture), both land uses appeared to have similar detrimental effects on streams suggesting higher per unit area impacts of urbanization on streams. The presence of forested riparian buffers along agricultural streams increased the complexity of instream habitat, but resulted in few benefits to fish assemblages, suggesting that stream water quality in altered landscapes may be constraining fish assemblages more than physical habitat.