Flow intermittency affects structural and functional properties of macroinvertebrate communities in alpine streams

Pierre C.M. Chanut*, Annemieke Drost, Andre Robert Siebers, Amael Paillex, Christopher T. Robinson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Flow regime is a major determinant of the structure and functioning of aquatic ecosystems. Under climate change, flow intermittency is becoming more prevalent in glaciated alpine catchments, but the effects of increasing dryness on aquatic biodiversity remain largely unknown. We characterised flow intermittency patterns in 30 streams of a glaciated alpine catchment over 15 months and separated these streams into four intermittency categories: perennial streams, winter-drying streams, moderately intermittent streams with occasional drying in summer, and periodically intermittent streams with extensive dry periods throughout the year. We then examined how these drying patterns affected structural and functional properties of benthic macroinvertebrate communities, and whether these changes were primarily deterministic or stochastic. At the taxonomic level, we observed a response at the highest intermittency levels, with α diversity lower and β diversity higher in periodically intermittent streams than in other stream types. This result suggested that local biota were well adapted to intermediate intermittency levels (mostly during winter) but not to high intermittency during summer. In contrast, functional diversity indices at the α and β levels (based on trait abundances) did not differ across intermittency categories. Considering the moderate level of functional redundancy, we interpreted this as an indication that changes in taxonomic diversity may have resulted primarily from stochastic processes. Analysis of community and trait composition indicated that deterministic selection may indeed have occurred with increased intermittency, but this process was likely to be minor in comparison to stochastic extinctions. Notably, community evenness was highest in periodically intermittent streams and lowest in perennial streams, suggesting that frequent drying prevented competitive exclusion. Our results suggested that most macroinvertebrate populations are resilient to intermediate intermittency levels but are filtered at high intermittency, irrespective of their resilience capacities. However, more research is needed to clarify the specific roles of different facets of flow regimes, specifically frequency, duration, and timing of intermittency. Understanding the consequences of responses in diversity and community evenness with increasing intermittency on the functional properties of communities will allow better prediction of the future ecological status of alpine stream networks to ongoing environmental change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)212-228
JournalFreshwater Biology
Issue number2
Early online date22 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • alpine streams
  • aquatic insects
  • diversity
  • functional traits
  • intermittency


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