An increasing number of studies have emphasized the need to bridge the disciplines of ecology and geomorphology. A large number of case studies show that organisms can affect erosion, but a comprehensive understanding of biological impacts on sediment transport conditions is still lacking. We use meta-analysis to synthesize published data to quantify the effects of the abundance, body size, and behavior of organisms on erosion in streams. We also explore the influence of current velocity, discharge, and sediment grain size on the strength of biotic effects on erosion. We found that species that both increase erosion (destabilizers) and decrease erosion (stabilizers) can alter incipient sediment motion, sediment suspension, and sediment deposition above control conditions in which the organisms were not present. When abundance was directly manipulated, these biotic effects were consistently stronger in the higher abundance treatment, increasing effect sizes by 66%. Per capita effect size and per capita biomass were also consistently positively correlated. Fish and crustaceans were the most studied organisms, but aquatic insects increased the effect size by 5503 compared to other types of organisms after accounting for biomass. In streams with lower discharge and smaller grain sizes, we consistently found stronger biotic effects. Taken collectively, these findings provide synthetic evidence that biology can affect physical processes in streams, and these effects can be mediated by hydraulic energy. We suggest that future studies focus on understudied organisms, such as biofilms, conducting experiments under realistic field conditions, and developing hypotheses for the effect of biology on erosion and velocity currents in the context of restoration to better understand the forces that mediate physical disturbances in stream ecosystems.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics