Testing for temporal coherence across spatial extents: the roles of climate and local factors in regulating stream macroinvertebrate community dynamics

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Temporal coherence or spatial synchrony refers to the tendency of population, community or ecosystem dynamics to behave similarly among locations through time as a result of spatially-correlated environmental stochasticity (Moran effect), dispersal or trophic interactions. While terrestrial studies have treated synchrony mainly as a population-level concept, the majority of freshwater studies have focused on community-level patterns, particularly in lake planktonic communities. We used spatially and temporally hierarchical data on benthic stream invertebrates across six years, with three seasonal samples a year, in 11 boreal streams to assess temporal coherence at three spatial extents: 1) among regions (watersheds), 2) among streams within a region, and 3) among riffles within a stream, using the average of correlation coefficients for stream/riffle pairs across years. Our results revealed the primacy of strongly synchronized climatic factors (precipitation, air temperature) in inducing temporal coherence of macroinvertebrate assemblages across geographically distinct sites (i.e. Moran effect). Coherence tended to decrease with increasing spatial extent, but positive coherence was detected for most biological variables even at the largest extent (about 350 km). The generally high level of coherence reflected the strong seasonality of boreal freshwater communities. A hydrologically exceptional year enhanced the synchrony of biological variables, particularly total macroinvertebrate abundance. Regionally low precipitation in that year led to a substantial decrease in benthic densities across a broad spatial extent, followed by a rapid post-drought recovery. Coherence at the among-riffle (within-stream) extent was lower than expected, implying that local-scale habitat filters determine community dynamics at smaller spatial extents. Thus, temporal coherence of stream benthic communities appears to be controlled by partly different processes at different spatial scales.

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