Benthic algal response to hyporheic-surface water exchange in an alluvial river

Kevin H. Wyatt, University of Southern Mississippi
George F. Pessoney, University of Southern Mississippi

Abstract

We studied the response of benthic algae to points of hyporheic-surface water exchange in the main channel of the Middle Fork Flathead River within the Nyack Flood Plain, Montana. We examined hyporheic exchange at 120 sites using piezometers and measuring vertical hydraulic gradient (VHG), hydraulic conductivity, and vertical discharge. We removed benthic algae from a single cobble at each site, and we used VHG to group sampling sites for statistical analysis. Algal cell density and chlorophyll a concentration were significantly higher at sites with hyporheic discharge (+VHG, upwelling) compared to both sites with hyporheic recharge (-VHG, downwelling) and sites with no hyporheic-surface water exchange (=VHG, neutral) (ANOVA, P < 0.05). The assemblages of algae at upwelling sites were also significantly different from downwelling and neutral exchange sites (ANOSIM, P < 0.05). Filamentous green algae Stigeoclonium sp. and Zygnema sp. and a chrysophyte, Hydrurus foetidus (Villars) Trevisan were abundant at upwelling sites, whereas an assemblage of diatoms Achnanthidium minutissimum (Kutzing) Czarnecki, Cymbella excisa Kutzing, Diatoma moniliformis Kutzing, and Gomphonema olivaceoides Hustedt, were the most abundant taxa at downwelling and neutral exchange sites, occurring attached to, or in close association with the stalks of Didymosphenia geminata (Lyngbye) Schmidt. These data show that benthic algal communities are structured differently depending on the direction of hyporheic flux in the main channel of a large alluvial river, suggesting that hyporheic-surface exchange may influence the spatial distribution of main-channel benthic algae in rivers with hyporheic-surface water connectivity.