Ecological values of Hamilton urban streams (North Island, New Zealand): constraints and opportunities for restoration
- Environment Waikato, PO Box 4010, Hamilton East, New Zealand
- Centre for Biodiversity and Ecology Research, Department of Biological Sciences, School of Science and Engineering, The University of Waikato, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton, New Zealand
- National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, PO Box 11-115, Hamilton, New Zealand
- Department of Conservation, PO Box 1146, Rotorua, New Zealand
- Institute of Natural Resources – Ecology, Massey University, Private Bag 11-222, Palmerston North, New Zealand
- Department of Conservation, PO Box 842, Whangarei, New Zealand
Urban streams globally are characterised by degraded habitat conditions and low aquatic biodiversity, but are increasingly becoming the focus of restoration activities. We investigated habitat quality, ecological function, and fish and macroinvertebrate community composition of gully streams in Hamilton City, New Zealand, and compared these with a selection of periurban sites surrounded by rural land. A similar complement of fish species was found at urban and periurban sites, including two threatened species, with only one introduced fish widespread (Gambusia affinis). Stream macroinvertebrate community metrics indicated low ecological condition at most urban and periurban sites, but highlighted the presence of one high value urban site with a fauna dominated by sensitive taxa. Light-trapping around seepages in city gullies revealed the presence of several caddisfly species normally associated with native forest, suggesting that seepage habitats can provide important refugia for some aquatic insects in urban environments. Qualitative measures of stream habitat were not significantly different between urban and periurban sites, but urban streams had significantly lower hydraulic function and higher biogeochemical function than periurban streams. These functional differences are thought to reflect, respectively, (1) the combined effects of channel modification and stormwater hydrology, and (2) the influence of riparian vegetation providing shade and enhancing habitat in streams. Significant relationships between some macroinvertebrate community metrics and riparian vegetation buffering and bank protection suggest that riparian enhancement may have beneficial ecological outcomes in some urban streams. Other actions that may contribute to urban stream restoration goals include an integrated catchment approach to resolving fish passage issues, active reintroduction of wood to streams to enhance cover and habitat heterogeneity, and seeding of depauperate streams with native migratory fish to help initiate natural recolonisation.