Discharges from historic and current coal mines frequently generate waters low in pH (<3), high in heavy metals (e.g. Fe, Al) and cover streambeds in metal precipitates. The present study investigated periphyton communities at 52 stream sites on the West Coast, South Island, New Zealand, representing a range of impacts from acid mine drainage (AMD). Taxonomic richness was negatively related to acidity and metal oxides and biomass was negatively correlated with metal oxides, but positively related to acidity. Streams with low pH (<3.5) had low periphyton richness (14 taxa across all sites) and were dominated by Klebsormidium acidophilum, Navicula cincta and Euglena mutabilis. As pH increased, so did taxonomic richness while community dominance decreased and community composition became more variable. Canonical correspondence analyses of algal assemblages revealed patterns influenced by pH. These findings indicate that streams affected by AMD possess a predictable assemblage composition of algal species that can tolerate the extreme water chemistry and substrate conditions. The predictability of algal communities declines with decreasing stress, as other abiotic and biotic factors become increasingly more important.
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