The concept of landscape legacies has been examined extensively in terrestrial ecosystems and has led to a greater understanding of contemporary ecosystem processes. However, although stream ecosystems are tightly coupled with their catchments and, thus, probably are affected strongly by historical catchment conditions, few studies have directly examined the importance of landuse legacies on streams. We examined relationships between historical land use (1944) and contemporary (2000–2003) stream physical, chemical, and biological conditions after accounting for the influences of contemporary land use (1999) and natural landscape (catchment size) variation in 12 small streams at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. Most stream variables showed strong relationships with contemporary land use and catchment size; however, after accounting for these factors, residual variation in many variables remained significantly related to historical land use. Residual variation in benthic particulate organic matter, diatom density, % of diatoms in Eunotia spp., fish density in runs, and whole-stream gross primary productivity correlated negatively, whereas streamwater pH correlated positively, with residual variation in fraction of disturbed land in catchments in 1944 (i.e., bare ground and unpaved road cover). Residual variation in % recovering land (i.e., early successional vegetation) in 1944 was correlated positively with residual variation in streambed instability, a macroinvertebrate biotic index, and fish richness, but correlated negatively with residual variation in most benthic macroinvertebrate metrics examined (e.g., Chironomidae and total richness, Shannon diversity). In contrast, residual variation in whole-stream respiration rates was not explained by historical land use. Our results suggest that historical land use continues to influence important physical and chemical variables in these streams, and in turn, probably influences associated biota. Beyond providing insight into biotic interactions and their associations with environmental conditions, identification of landuse legacies also will improve understanding of stream impairment in contemporary minimally disturbed catchments, enabling more accurate assessment of reference conditions in studies of biotic integrity and restoration.
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