River flow is a major driver of morphological structure and community dynamics in riverine-floodplain ecosystems. Flow influences in-stream communities through changes in water velocity, depth, temperature, turbidity and nutrient fluxes, and perturbations in the organisation of lower trophic levels are cascaded through the food web, resulting in shifts in food availability for consumer species. River birds are sensitive to spatial and phenological mismatches with aquatic prey following flow disturbances; however, the role of flow as a determinant of riparian ecological structure remains poorly known. This knowledge is crucial to help to predict if, and how, riparian communities will be influenced by climate-induced changes in river flow characterised by more extreme high (i.e. flood) and/or low (i.e. drought) flow events. Here, we combine national-scale datasets of river bird surveys and river flow archives to understand how hydrological disturbance has affected the distribution of riparian species at higher trophic levels. Data were analysed for 71 river locations using a Generalized Additive Model framework and a model averaging procedure. Species had complex but biologically interpretable associations with hydrological indices, with species' responses consistent with their ecology, indicating that hydrological-disturbance has implications for higher trophic levels in riparian food webs. Our quantitative analysis of river flow-bird relationships demonstrates the potential vulnerability of riparian species to the impacts of changing flow variability and represents an important contribution in helping to understand how bird communities might respond to a climate change-induced increase in the intensity of floods and droughts. Moreover, the success in relating parameters of river flow variability to species' distributions highlights the need to include river flow data in climate change impact models of species' distributions.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)