Mountain watersheds often contain a mosaic of glacier-, snow-, and rain-fed streams that have distinct hydrologic, temperature, and biogeochemical regimes. However, as glaciers diminish and precipitation shifts from snow to rain, the physical and chemical characteristics that make glacial or snowmelt streams distinct from rain-fed streams will fade. Among the unforeseen consequences of this hydrologic homogenization could be the loss of unique food webs that sustain aquatic consumers. To explore the impacts of a melting cryosphere on stream food webs, we parameterized an aquatic food web model with empirical physicochemical data from glacier-, snow-, and rain-fed streams in southeast Alaska and used the model to simulate the seasonal biomass dynamics of aquatic primary producers and consumers and the growth of juvenile salmon. Model results suggest that glacier-, snow-, and rain-fed streams exhibit seasonal asynchronies in the timing of biofilm and aquatic invertebrate abundance. Although warmer rain-fed streams were more productive during the summer (June through September), colder glacial and snowmelt streams provided enhanced foraging and growth opportunities throughout the remainder of the year. For juvenile salmon that can track peaks in resource abundance within river networks, the loss of meltwater streams strongly constrained modeled growth opportunities by removing spatially and temporally distinct foraging habitats within a watershed. These findings suggest that climate change induced homogenization of high latitude river networks may result in the loss of unique food web dynamics, which could diminish the capacity of watersheds to sustain mobile consumers.
Bellmore JR, Fellman JB, Hood E, Dunkle MR, Edwards RT. 2022. A melting cryosphere constrains fish growth by synchronizing the seasonal phenology of river food webs. Global Change Biology. 28: 4807–4818.. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.16273.