Watershed development alters hydrology and delivers anthropogenic stressors to streams via pathways affected by impervious cover. We characterized relationships of diatom communities and metrics with upstream watershed % impervious cover (IC) and with riparian % forest and wetland cover in 120-m buffers along each side of upstream networks. Threshold Indicator Taxa ANalysis (TITAN) identified potential threshold responses of diatom communities at 0.6 and 2.9% IC. Boosted regression trees (BRTs) indicated potential thresholds between 0.7 and 4.5% IC at which relative abundances of low-nutrient diatoms decreased and those of high-nutrient, prostrate, and motile diatoms increased. These individual thresholds indicated that multiple stressors or magnitudes of stressors related to increasing watershed % IC differentially affected relative abundances of taxa, and these differential effects probably contributed to a more gradual, but still substantial, change in overall community structure. BRTs showed that near-stream buffers with >65% and ideally >80% forest and wetland cover were associated with a 13 to 34% reduction in the effects of watershed % IC on diatom metrics and community structure and with a 61 to 68% reduction in the effects of watershed % pasture on motile and high-P diatom relative abundances. Watershed % IC and riparian % forest and wetland cover probably affect hydrologic, nutrient, and sediment regimes, which then affect diatom community physiognomy and taxa sensitive to nutrients and conductivity. Our results emphasize the importance of implementing mindful development and protective measures, especially in watersheds near watershed % IC thresholds. Effects of development potentially could be reduced by restoring and conserving near-stream forests and wetlands, but management and restoration strategies that extend beyond near-stream buffers are needed.
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