Dry biofilm on rocks and other substrata forms an important drought refuge for benthic algae in intermittent streams following the cessation of flow. This dry biofilm is potentially susceptible to disturbance from bushfires, including direct burning and/or scorching and damage from radiant heat, particularly when streams are dry. Therefore, damage to dry biofilms by fire has the potential to influence algal recolonization and assemblage structure in intermittent streams following commencement of flow. The influence of fire on benthic algal assemblages and recolonization was examined in intermittent streams of the Grampians National Park, Victoria, Australia, using a field survey and manipulative field experiment. The field survey compared assemblages in two intermittent streams within a recently burnt area (within 5 months of the fire) with two intermittent streams within an unburnt area. The two burnt streams were still flowing during the fire so most biofilms were not likely to be directly exposed to flames. Considerable site-to-site and stream-to-stream variation was detected during the field survey, which may have obscured potential differences attributable to indirect effects of the fire. The manipulative field experiment occurred in two intermittent streams and consisted of five treatments chosen to replicate various characteristics of bushfires that may influence dry biofilms: dry biofilm exposed directly to fire; dry biofilm exposed to radiant heat; dry biofilm exposed to ash; and two procedural controls. After exposure to the different treatments, rocks were replaced in the streams and algae were sampled 7 days after flow commenced. Differences occurred across treatments, but treatment differences were inconsistent across the two streams. For example, direct exposure to fire reduced the abundance of recolonizing algae and altered assemblage structure in both streams, while radiant heat had an effect on assemblage structure in one stream only. The manipulative field experiment is likely to have represented the intensity of a small bushfire only. Nonetheless, significant differences across treatments were detected, so these experimental results suggest that fire can damage dry biofilms, and hence, influence algal recolonization and assemblage structure in intermittent streams.
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