skip to main content

Title: Drought effects on invertebrate metapopulation dynamics and quasi‐extinction risk in an intermittent river network

Ecological communities can remain stable in the face of disturbance if their constituent species have different resistance and resilience strategies. In turn, local stability scales up regionally if heterogeneous landscapes maintain spatial asynchrony across discrete populations—but not if large‐scale stressors synchronize environmental conditions and biological responses. Here, we hypothesized that droughts could drastically decrease the stability of invertebrate metapopulations both by filtering out poorly adapted species locally, and by synchronizing their dynamics across a river network. We tested this hypothesis via multivariate autoregressive state‐space (MARSS) models on spatially replicated, long‐term data describing aquatic invertebrate communities and hydrological conditions in a set of temperate, lowland streams subject to seasonal and supraseasonal drying events. This quantitative approach allowed us to assess the influence of local (flow magnitude) and network‐scale (hydrological connectivity) drivers on invertebrate long‐term trajectories, and to simulate near‐future responses to a range of drought scenarios. We found that fluctuations in species abundances were heterogeneous across communities and driven by a combination of hydrological and stochastic drivers. Among metapopulations, increasing extent of dry reaches reduced the abundance of functional groups with low resistance or resilience capacities (i.e. low ability to persist in situ or recolonize from elsewhere, respectively). Our simulations revealed that metapopulation quasi‐extinction risk for taxa vulnerable to drought increased exponentially as flowing habitats contracted within the river network, whereas the risk for taxa with resistance and resilience traits remained stable. Our results suggest that drought can be a synchronizing agent in riverscapes, potentially leading to regional quasi‐extinction of species with lower resistance and resilience abilities. Better recognition of drought‐driven synchronization may increase realism in species extinction forecasts as hydroclimatic extremes continue to intensify worldwide.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Global Change Biology
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 4024-4039
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    While climate change is altering ecosystems on a global scale, not all ecosystems are responding in the same way. The resilience of ecological communities may depend on whether food webs are producer‐ or detritus‐based (i.e. ‘green’ or ‘brown’ food webs, respectively), or both (i.e. ‘multi‐channel’ food web).

    Food web theory suggests that the presence of multiple energy pathways can enhance community stability and resilience and may modulate the responses of ecological communities to disturbances such as climate change. Despite important advances in food web theory, few studies have empirically investigated the resilience of ecological communities to climate change stressors in ecosystems with different primary energy channels.

    We conducted a factorial experiment using outdoor stream mesocosms to investigate the independent and interactive effects of warming and drought on invertebrate communities in food webs with different energy channel configurations. Warming had little effect on invertebrates, but stream drying negatively impacted total invertebrate abundance, biomass, richness and diversity.

    Although resistance to drying did not differ among energy channel treatments, recovery and overall resilience were higher in green mesocosms than in mixed and brown mesocosms. Resilience to drying also varied widely among taxa, with larger predatory taxa exhibiting lower resilience.

    Our results suggest that the effects of drought on stream communities may vary regionally and depend on whether food webs are fuelled by autochthonous or allochthonous basal resources. Communities inhabiting streams with large amounts of organic matter and more complex substrates that provide refugia may be more resilient to the loss of surface water than communities inhabiting streams with simpler, more homogeneous substrates.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Increasingly severe and prolonged droughts are contributing to tree stress and forest mortality across western North America. However, in many cases, we currently have poor information concerning how drought responses in forests vary in relation to competition, climate, and site and tree characteristics. We used annual tree ring evidence of13C discrimination (Δ13C) and growth metrics to assess drought resistance and resilience for six conifer species at the intersection of several bioregions in northern California. Within each species' range in northern California, we collected competition and tree characteristics from 270 focal trees across sites that varied from wetter to drier habitat conditions (54 sites). Across sites, all six conifer species weathered the severe 2013–2015 drought with reasonably high resistance and post‐drought resilience. However, we found important differences in drought responses between coastal and montane species based on annual growth and Δ13C metrics. Broadly, the two coastal species showed consistent declines in drought resistance across successive drought years, whereas the four montane species maintained high drought resistance across drought years. More specifically, we found lower Δ13C and growth during drought years in coastal species, suggesting stomatal closure during drought with the potential for vulnerability to carbon depletion during long‐term drought. Conversely, Δ13C and growth were stable in montane species throughout the drought, which may contribute to hydraulic failure under increased drought frequency and/or severity. We also evaluated environmental factors that affect Δ13C using data from before and during the drought. These physiological models were consistent for the two coastal species, with a positive relationship between annual precipitation and Δ13C and a negative relationship between tree density and Δ13C. Conversely, the four montane models illustrated a greater importance of site conditions on drought responses for these species. Our findings show differential risk for drought stress across diverse conifers during severe drought. This work highlights the importance of site and tree characteristics in determining drought responses across cool, annually humid coastal habitats to seasonally dry montane habitats.

    more » « less
  3. Predicting species survival in the face of climate change requires understanding the drivers that influence their distribution. Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) incubate and rear chicks on landfast sea ice, whose extent, dynamics, and quality are expected to vary substantially due to climate change. Until recently, this species’ continent-wide observations were scarce, and knowledge on their distribution and habitat limited. Advances in satellite imagery now allow their observation and characterization of habitats across Antarctica at high resolution. Using circumpolar high-resolution satellite images, unique fast ice metrics, and geographic and biological factors, we identified diverse penguin habitats across the continent, with no significant difference between areas with penguins or not. There is a clear geographic partitioning of colonies with respect to their defining habitat characteristics, indicating possible behavioral plasticity among different metapopulations. This coincides with geographic structures found in previous genetic studies. Given projections of quasi-extinction for this species in 2100, this study provides essential information for conservation measures.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Ecosystem models commonly use stable‐state assumptions to predict responses of soil microbial functions to environmental change. However, past climatic conditions can shape microbial functional responses resulting in a ‘legacy effect’. For instance, exposure to drier conditions in the field may shape how soil microbial communities respond to subsequent drought and drying and rewetting (DRW) events.

    We investigated microbial tolerance to low moisture levels (‘resistance’) and ability to recover after a DRW perturbation (‘resilience’) across a steep precipitation gradient in Texas, USA.

    Although differences in precipitation regime did not result in differences in resistance and resilience of soil microbes, microbial communities appeared to be generally resilient and resistant across the gradient, suggesting that frequent exposure to drought had characterised the trait distributions of microbial communities. Moreover, microbial communities from historically drier sites used carbon more efficiently during a DRW perturbation suggesting that long‐term drought history leaves a legacy effect on microbial functions. This may have been due to an indirect effect of drought caused via precipitation‐induced differences in primary productivity, influencing the availability of soil organic matter to microbes. Alternatively, different exposures to drought might have shaped the microbial ‘readiness’ to cope with the DRW disturbance. Microbial community composition was also linked to drought history, but was unrelated to variation in function.

    Synthesis. Exposure to drought can have both direct and indirect effects on soil microbial communities, which can result in lasting legacy effects on the functions they control.

    more » « less
  5. The stability of ecological communities is critical for the stable provisioning of ecosystem services, such as food and forage production, carbon sequestration, and soil fertility. Greater biodiversity is expected to enhance stability across years by decreasing synchrony among species, but the drivers of stability in nature remain poorly resolved. Our analysis of time series from 79 datasets across the world showed that stability was associated more strongly with the degree of synchrony among dominant species than with species richness. The relatively weak influence of species richness is consistent with theory predicting that the effect of richness on stability weakens when synchrony is higher than expected under random fluctuations, which was the case in most communities. Land management, nutrient addition, and climate change treatments had relatively weak and varying effects on stability, modifying how species richness, synchrony, and stability interact. Our results demonstrate the prevalence of biotic drivers on ecosystem stability, with the potential for environmental drivers to alter the intricate relationship among richness, synchrony, and stability. 
    more » « less