Flow and temperature are strongly linked environmental factors driving ecosystem processes in streams. Stream temperature maxima (Tmax_w) and stream flow minima (Qmin) can create periods of stress for aquatic organisms. In mountainous areas, such as western North America, recent shifts toward an earlier spring peak flow and decreases in low flow during summer/fall have been reported. We hypothesized that an earlier peak flow could be shifting the timing of low flow and leading to a decrease in the interval between Tmax_w and Qmin. We also examined if years with extreme low Qmin were associated with years of extreme high Tmax_w. We tested these hypotheses using long32 term data from 22 minimally human-influenced streams for the period 1950-2010. We found trends toward a shorter time lag between Tmax_w and Qmin over time and a strong negative association between their magnitudes. Our findings show that aquatic biota may be increasingly experiencing narrower time windows to recover or adapt between these extreme events of low flow and high temperature. This study highlights the importance of evaluating multiple environmental drivers to better gauge the effects of the recent climate variability in freshwaters.
Additional publication details
Increasing synchrony of high temperature and low flow in western North American streams: double trouble for coldwater biota?