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Rivers and Streams: Life in Flowing Water

Rivers and Streams: Life in Flowing Water

What lies beneath? Rivers: diverse habitats with broadly varying niches. Communities reflect and influence local, upstream, downstream, and broader landscape conditions.

Water current pervades every facet of existence for life in lotic (flowing water) habitats. Maintaining position in the face of flow can be energetically costly, but provides access to a conveyer belt-like food-delivery system. Stream and river organisms reflect their localized niche, and surrounding landscape both upstream and downstream. River organisms have evolved in diverse and fascinating ways in the varied environments between river source and mouth.
Streams and Rivers: Habitats Partitioned at Different Spatial Scales
Large-scale differences: Source to mouth.
The blue line of a river on a map conveniently represents rivers as two-dimensional habitats beginning (usually) in a mountainous region, and ending in a far-off sea (or inland basin). But the physical changes in three dimensions along a river’s length have important implications for river inhabitants.

River sources are usually small, and in the case of mountain streams, steep and erosional (Montgomery and Buffington 1997). In temperate environments, small streams tend to be shaded by an interlocking, overhead tree canopy. Such conditions result in cool, well oxygenated streams that are abundantly supplied with a food base of leaves. Fine particles of organic matter are released as the leaves are broken down by biological communities in the streams (River Continuum Concept; Figure 1; Vannote et al. 1980).