Ecological responses to dam construction are poorly understood, especially for downstream benthic algal communities. We examined the responses of benthic algal communities in downstream reaches of a tributary of the Xiangxi River, China, to the construction of a small run-of-river dam. From February 2003 to August 2006, benthic algae, chemical factors, and habitat characteristics were monitored upstream and downstream of the dam site. This period spanned 6 mo before dam construction and 37 mo after dam construction. Benthic algal sampling yielded 199 taxa in 59 genera that belonged to Bacillariophyta, Chlorophyta, and Cyanophyta. Some physical factors (flow velocity, water depth, and channel width) and 3 algal metrics (diatom species richness, Margalef diversity, and % erect individuals) were significantly affected by the dam construction, whereas chemical factors (e.g., NH4-N, total N, SiO2) were not. Nonmetric multidimensional scaling (NMS) ordinations showed that overall algal assemblage structure downstream of the dam sites was similar to that of upstream control sites before dam construction and for 1 year after dam construction (p > 0.05). However, sites belonging to upstream and downstream reaches were well separated on NMS axis 1 during the 2nd and 3rd years after dam construction. Our results suggest that impacts of dam construction on benthic algal communities took 2 to 3 y to emerge. Further development of a complete set of indicators is needed to address the impact of small-dam construction. Our observations underscore the need for additional studies that quantify ecological responses to dam construction over longer time spans.
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