Severity Multipliers as a Methodology to Explore Potential Effects of Climate Change on Stream Bioassessment Programs


Given the scientific consensus that climate change is impacting biodiversity, estimates of future climate change effects on stream communities and assessments of potential biases are necessary. Here, we propose a simple technique to approximate changes in invertebrate and fish biomonitoring results. Taxa lists for 60 (invertebrate) and 52 (fish) sites were each modified by 10 multipliers as stepwise 5% or 10% changes in abundances to simulate potential climate-change severity, reflecting increasing climate change effects. These 10 multipliers were based on the stream zonation preference for invertebrates and the Fish Region Index (FRI) values for fish, both reflecting the longitudinal gradient present in river ecosystems. The original and modified taxa lists were analyzed using the standard assessment software for the particular group, followed by analysis of key biomonitoring metrics. For invertebrates, our simulations affected small good quality streams more often negatively while large poor mountain streams showed a tendency to improve. Forty percent of the invertebrate data sites showed a change in the final ecological assessment class when using the multipliers, with the poor quality sites changing more often. For fish, metric changes were variable, but the FRI ratio showed mostly positive responses, i.e., a shift in FRI towards downstream communities. The results are discussed as an example that facilitates the interpretation of potential climate-change effects with varying severity. Further, we discuss the simplified approach and implications for assessment from climate change induced range shifts.