Evaluating ecosystem effects of climate change on tropical island streams using high spatial and temporal resolution sampling regimes

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Climate change is expected to alter precipitation patterns worldwide, which will affect streamflow in riverine ecosystems. It is vital to understand the impacts of projected flow variations, especially in tropical regions where the effects of climate change are expected to be one of the earliest to emerge. Space-for-time substitutions have been successful at predicting effects of climate change in terrestrial systems by using a spatial gradient to mimic the projected temporal change. However, concerns have been raised that the spatial variability in these models might not reflect the temporal variability. We utilized a well-constrained rainfall gradient on Hawaii Island to determine (a) how predicted decreases in flow and increases in flow variability affect stream food resources and consumers and (b) if using a high temporal (monthly, four streams) or a high spatial (annual, eight streams) resolution sampling scheme would alter the results of a space-for-time substitution. Declines in benthic and suspended resource quantity (10- to 40-fold) and quality (shift from macrophyte to leaf litter dominated) contributed to 35-fold decreases in macroinvertebrate biomass with predicted changes in the magnitude and variability in the flow. Invertebrate composition switched from caddisflies and damselflies to taxa with faster turnover rates (mosquitoes, copepods). Changes in resource and consumer composition patterns were stronger with high temporal resolution sampling. However, trends and ranges of results did not differ between the two sampling regimes, indicating that a suitable, well-constrained spatial gradient is an appropriate tool for examining temporal change. Our study is the first to investigate resource to community wide effects of climate change on tropical streams on a spatial and temporal scale. We determined that predicted flow alterations would decrease stream resource and consumer quantity and quality, which can alter stream function, as well as biomass and habitat for freshwater, marine, and terrestrial consumers dependent on these resources.

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Global Change Biology

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Hawaii, macroinvertebrate biomass, organic matter, precipitation gradient, resource quality, space-for-time substitution, streamflow