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Climate change modifies the size structure of assemblages of emerging aquatic insects

Jonsson, Micael, Hedström, Per, Stenroth, Karolina, Hotchkiss, Erin R., Vasconcelos, Francisco Rivera, Karlsson, Jan, Byström, Pär
Freshwater biology 2015 v.60 no.1 pp. 78-88
Chironomidae, Ephemeroptera, Trichoptera, ambient temperature, aquatic ecosystems, aquatic food webs, aquatic insects, biomass, body size, climate change, community structure, dissolved organic matter, fish, streams, water temperature
Climate change is expected to not only raise water temperatures, but also to cause brownification of aquatic ecosystems via increased inputs of terrestrial dissolved organic matter. While efforts have been made to understand how increased temperature and brownification separately influence aquatic food webs, their interactive effects have been less investigated. Further, although climate change effects on aquatic ecosystems likely will propagate to terrestrial consumers via changes in aquatic insect emergence, this has rarely been studied. We investigated the effect of climate change on aquatic insect emergence, in a large‐scale outdoor pond facility where 16 sections – each containing natural food webs including a fish top‐consumer population – were subjected to warming (3 °C above ambient temperatures) and/or brownification (by adding naturally humic stream water). Aquatic insect emergence was measured biweekly over 18 weeks. We found no effect of warming or brownification on total emergent insect dry mass. However, warming significantly reduced the number of emergent Chironomidae, while numbers of larger taxa, Trichoptera and Ephemeroptera, remained unchanged. On average, 57% and 58% fewer Chironomidae emerged from the warmed clear and humic pond sections, respectively. This substantial decrease in emergent Chironomidae resulted in a changed community structure and on average larger individuals emerging from warm sections as well as from humic sections under ambient conditions. There was also a weak influence of fish biomass on the size structure of emergent aquatic insects, with a positive relationship between individual insect size and total fish biomass, but effects of fish were clearly subordinate to those of warming. Climate change impacts on aquatic systems can have widespread consequences also for terrestrial systems, as aquatic insects are ubiquitous and their emergence represents an important resource flow from aquatic to terrestrial environments. While we found that neither warming nor brownification quantitatively changed total aquatic insect emergence biomass, the warming‐induced decrease in number of emergent Chironomidae and the subsequent increase in average body size will likely impact terrestrial consumers relying on emergent aquatic insect as prey.