Benthic macroinvertebrate assemblage composition and distribution pattern in the upper Mthatha River, Eastern Cape, South Africa
Benthic macroinvertebrates were sampled and environmental variables measured at Langeni Forest and Kambi Valley, two sites of varying degrees of human impact in the upper Mthatha River, South Africa, in 2010–2011. Four species, Simulium adersi Pomeroy, Baetis harrisoni Barnard, Pseudocloeon sp. and Tricorythus sp., occurred at all site sampling units. Specimen counts increased from the rainy months of January to April/ May, and higher numbers of individuals occurred at Langeni. Species occurrences per site were directly or indirectly affected by season, substrate and habitat heterogeneity. Canonical correspondence analysis results showed that conductivity, pH, flow, substrate and marginal vegetation were important in determining species distribution patterns. Both rare/habitat-restricted and common/widespread benthic macroinvertebrates identified in this study can be used as indicators for assessing the ecological integrity of the Mthatha River. Habitat management along the river should aim at preserving indigenous vegetation, especially during the summer season when habitat requirements are optimal for growth stages of most benthic macroinvertebrate fauna. The practicality of using species-level surveys on a routine basis can be challenging, given the lack of taxonomic expertise and time constraints. It might be advisable to select a few indicator species and to monitor them as surrogates for the whole community.
Keywords: abundance, benthic macroinvertebrates, correlations, environmental variables, freshwater, richness