Despite their trophic importance and potential importance as bioindicators of stream condition, benthic algae have not been well studied in California. In particular there are few studies from small streams in the Sierra Nevada. The objective of this study was to determine the standing crop of chlorophyll-a and benthic algal species assemblages present in the small 1st- and 2nd-order streams of the Kings River Experimental Watersheds (KREW, watersheds of Bull, Providence, Duff, and Teakettle Creeks) and determine the associations of these measures with stream habitat. We collected samples of benthic algae from rock substrata in September 2002 (7 sites) and 2005 (the same 7 sites plus 5 additional sites). Habitat and water-quality data were collected concurrently. Chlorophyll-a values ranged from 0.2 to 3.2 mg ·m−2. Chlorophyll-a in the Bull Creek watershed was generally lower than in the other watersheds. Benthic algal assemblages were dominated by diatoms and cyanobacteria. We collected 79 taxa of diatoms in 2002 and 126 taxa in 2005. Diatom taxa richness in individual samples ranged from 15 to 47. Nonmetric multidimensional scaling analysis of arcsine square-root transformed proportional abundances of diatoms identified 3 groups of sites. Bull Creek sites were generally different from other sites (group 1), and the sites from Bull Creek were different in 2002 (group 2) and 2005 (group 3). Five taxa appeared to be particularly important in distinguishing groups: Achnanthidium minutissimum, Cocconeis placentula, Eunotia incisa, Eunotia pectinalis var. minor, and Planothidium lanceolatum. Elevation, water temperature, pH, specific conductance, and canopy were habitat variables correlated with the differences in diatom assemblages among sites. Our results provide a valuable baseline for future studies of benthic algae in Sierra Nevada headwater streams and will be particularly important in understanding the effects of different forest restoration management strategies being tested in the KREW project.
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Vol. 68 • No. 2