Small increases in stream drying can dramatically reduce ecosystem connectivity

Megan C. Malish, Shang Gao, Darin Kopp, Yang Hong, Daniel C. Allen, Thomas Neeson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Habitat fragmentation drives biodiversity loss in rivers around the world. Although the effects of anthropogenic barriers on river connectivity are well known, there has been little research on the ways in which stream drying may alter connections among habitats and resources. Given that stream drying is increasing in many regions, there is a pressing need to understand the effects of drying on habitat fragmentation. Here, we quantify spatiotemporal drying patterns under current and future climate scenarios in the Upper Blue River Basin, Oklahoma. We used a hydrologic model to simulate daily streamflow for nine climate scenarios. For each scenario, we calculated metrics of streamflow temporal continuity (dry days, dry periods, and dry period duration) and spatial connectivity (wetted length, number of dry stream fragments, length of dry stream fragments, and dendritic connectivity index) from simulated daily streamflow. We found that stream drying is likely to increase in all future climate scenarios and that increases in stream drying reduce connectivity. However, the effects of stream drying on connectivity were highly nonlinear. Specifically, we observed a threshold around which a small increase in stream drying led to a rapid drop in connectivity. We also found that the greatest increases in stream drying were not associated with the highest emission scenarios, underscoring the complex linkages among climate, water availability, and connectivity. Given that connectivity is essential to ecosystem structure and function, we discuss water management strategies informed by impacts of stream drying.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere4450
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology

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