Effect of inorganic sediment on whole-stream productivity

Kenneth L. Parkhill, John S. Gulliver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Sediment from agricultural, logging, and mining activities impairs more miles of rivers and streams in the United States than any other type of pollutant, including bacteria, nutrients, oxygen-depleting substances, and metals. However, specific impacts of sediment to streams have not been well studied or understood. To study the effect of inorganic sediment on plant and animal communities in stream ecosystems, we added clay to outdoor experimental streams 520 m long and 3.5 m wide at the Monticello Ecological Research Station (MERS). The streams take water from the Mississippi River and are designed to represent higher order streams in the upper midwestern United States. The sediment loading rates were 300, 200, 100, and 50 mg 1-1. Our first dosing period (mid-August to November 1994) began at the start of a fall bloom in autotroph productivity, and the second (May to August 1995) began before the summer communities were established. During both treatment seasons, the addition of clay significantly increased turbidity and sedimentation, and decreased light penetration in treated streams corresponding roughly to 30-35, 25-30, 15-20, and 5-10 NTU, respectively. In general, the macrophyte and periphyton communities responded quickly after only a few weeks exposure to the sediment additions. Wholestream respiration was significantly lower in treated streams, decreasing as the amount of sediment added increased. Periphyton biomass (chl a) on tiles and percent cover of macrophytes was significantly lower in treatment streams than in controls. In contrast to expectations and previous findings in two sets of field streams, total whole-stream productivity in the MERS streams was not significantly lower in streams receiving sediment loads than in control streams because the overall photosynthetic efficiency by the plant community compensated for the loss in irradiance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5-17
Number of pages13
StatePublished - Mar 15 2002


  • Light penetration
  • Nonpoint pollution
  • Photosynthesis
  • Productivity
  • Respiration
  • Sediment
  • Stream
  • Turbidity

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