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Baranov, Viktor; Jourdan, Jonas; Pilotto, Francesca; Wagner, Rüdiger and Haase, Peter (2020): Complex and nonlinear climate-driven changes in freshwater insect communities over 42 years. In: Conservation Biology, Vol. 34, No. 5: pp. 1241-1251

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The ongoing biodiversity crisis becomes evident in the widely observed decline in abundance and diversity of species, profound changes in community structure, and shifts in species' phenology. Insects are among the most affected groups, with documented decreases in abundance up to 76% in the last 25-30 years in some terrestrial ecosystems. Identifying the underlying drivers is a major obstacle as most ecosystems are affected by multiple stressors simultaneously and in situ measurements of environmental variables are often missing. In our study, we investigated a headwater stream belonging to the most common stream type in Germany located in a nature reserve with no major anthropogenic impacts except climate change. We used the most comprehensive quantitative long-term data set on aquatic insects available, which includes weekly measurements of species-level insect abundance, daily water temperature and stream discharge as well as measurements of additional physicochemical variables for a 42-year period (1969-2010). Overall, water temperature increased by 1.88 degrees C and discharge patterns changed significantly. These changes were accompanied by an 81.6% decline in insect abundance, but an increase in richness (+8.5%), Shannon diversity (+22.7%), evenness (+22.4%), and interannual turnover (+34%). Moreover, the community's trophic structure and phenology changed: the duration of emergence increased by 15.2 days, whereas the peak of emergence moved 13.4 days earlier. Additionally, we observed short-term fluctuations (<5 years) in almost all metrics as well as complex and nonlinear responses of the community toward climate change that would have been missed by simply using snapshot data or shorter time series. Our results indicate that climate change has already altered biotic communities severely even in protected areas, where no other interacting stressors (pollution, habitat fragmentation, etc.) are present. This is a striking example of the scientific value of comprehensive long-term data in capturing the complex responses of communities toward climate change.

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