Document Type



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date



Freshwater Biology




Climate change is expected to alter rainfall and temperature regimes across the world. The hydrology and riparian zone vegetation of lotic ecosystems are tightly linked to rainfall and a mechanistic understanding of the effects of rainfall on lotic ecosystems is needed to forecast the ecological impacts of climate change. However, it is difficult to isolate rainfall effects from other environmental variables that covary across climates. To address this, we leveraged a unique steep rainfall gradient with few covarying changes in elevation, temperature, and geology to evaluate the effects of rainfall on stream invertebrate communities. We surveyed nine streams in the Texas Gulf Coast Prairie distributed along a 550–1,350 mm/year rainfall gradient. Four sites were classified as drier semi-arid streams (<750 mm annual rainfall) and five sites were classified as wetter sub-humid streams (>750 mm annual rainfall). A suite of characteristics including benthic invertebrate community metrics, flow conditions, and water quality variables were assessed monthly for 14 months at each site to relate precipitation regime to stream structure and function. Precipitation regime was observed to be a master explanatory variable. As annual rainfall increased, the flow environment became more stable within seasons and predictable across seasons, influencing spatial structure and temporal variability of invertebrate community composition. Wetter streams were dominated by slower growing taxa without adaptions for desiccation resistance and strong dispersal. Wetter sites displayed seasonal variation in community composition and species richness, whereas temporal variation in communities in drier streams was controlled by stochastic variation in flow conditions. These observations show that differences in local annual rainfall correlated with major changes to community structure and functional composition. We hypothesise that this association is related to the connection of rainfall to hydrological stability, particularly the frequency of low flow disturbances, and the subsequent effects on riparian vegetation and temporally available niches to stream invertebrates. Our work adds to evidence that alterations in precipitation patterns associated with climate change have sweeping impacts on lotic fauna.


doi: 10.1111/fwb.13968


benthic invertebrates; biodiversity; climate; functional traits; semi-arid streams

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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