Specialized meltwater biodiversity persists despite widespread deglaciation

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
By: , and 

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Abstract

Glaciers are important drivers of environmental heterogeneity and biological diversity across mountain landscapes. Worldwide, glaciers are receding rapidly due to climate change, with important consequences for biodiversity in mountain ecosystems. However, the effects of glacier loss on biodiversity have never been quantified across a mountainous region, primarily due to a lack of adequate data at large spatial and temporal scales. Here, we combine high-resolution biological and glacier change (ca. 1850–2015) datasets for Glacier National Park, USA, to test the prediction that glacier retreat reduces biodiversity in mountain ecosystems through the loss of uniquely adapted meltwater stream species. We identified a specialized cold-water invertebrate community restricted to the highest elevation streams primarily below glaciers, but also snowfields and groundwater springs. We show that this community and endemic species have unexpectedly persisted in cold, high-elevation sites, even in catchments that have not been glaciated in ∼170 y. Future projections suggest substantial declines in suitable habitat, but not necessarily loss of this community with the complete disappearance of glaciers. Our findings demonstrate that high-elevation streams fed by snow and other cold-water sources continue to serve as critical climate refugia for mountain biodiversity even after glaciers disappear.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Specialized meltwater biodiversity persists despite widespread deglaciation
Series title Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
DOI 10.1073/pnas.2001697117
Volume 117
Issue 22
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher PNAS
Contributing office(s) Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
Description 7 p.
First page 12208
Last page 12214
Country United States
State Montana
Other Geospatial Glacier National Park
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