The presence, abundance, composition, and growth of periphyton are controlled or influenced by 5 broad classes of environmental variation: disturbances, stressors, resources, hydraulic conditions, and biotic interactions. In turn, periphyton communities affect water chemistry, hydraulic conditions, habitat availability, and foodweb dynamics. This review focuses on responses of periphyton communities to environmental variation. A specific objective of the review is to identify robust periphyton–environment relationships and insightful concepts. Contributors to J-NABS have led the field in testing and expanding concepts in periphyton ecology. J-NABS papers about periphyton patch dynamics, light- and nutrient-limited periphyton growth, and the effects of disturbances on periphyton structure and function have been particularly influential. However, many topics in periphyton ecology remain unexplored and underexplored. These topics include resource colimitation, physiological responses to stressors, allelopathy, competitive inhibition and exclusion, and the effects of drag forces and turbulence. Periphyton ecology studies in J-NABS tend to be multivariable, phenomenological, and nonmechanistic. Such studies provide information about temporal and spatial patterns, but rarely provide evidence for the causes of those patterns. These studies are often impaired by low statistical power and insufficient experimental control. Periphyton ecology needs more rigorous manipulative experiments, particularly experiments that generate clear relationships between environmental drivers and ecological responses.
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