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Keywords:

  • Lotic-Invertebrate Index for Flow Evaluation (LIFE);
  • river regime variability;
  • environmental flows;
  • indicators of hydrologic alteration (IHA);
  • hydroecology

Abstract

Spatio-temporal variability in river flow is a fundamental control on instream habitat structure and riverine ecosystem biodiversity and integrity. However, long-term riverine ecological time-series to test hypotheses about hydrology–ecology interactions in a broader temporal context are rare, and studies spanning multiple rivers are often limited in their temporal coverage to less than five years. To address this research gap, a unique spatio-temporal hydroecological analysis was conducted of long-term instream ecological responses (1990–2000) to river flow regime variability at 83 sites across England and Wales. The results demonstrate clear hydroecological associations at the national scale (all data). In addition, significant differences in ecological response are recorded between three ‘regions’ identified (RM1–3*) associated with characteristics of the flow regime. The effect of two major supra-seasonal droughts (1990–1992 and 1996–1997) on inter-annual (IA) variability of the LIFE scores is evident with both events showing a gradual decline before and recovery of LIFE scores after the low flow period. The instream community response to high magnitude flow regimes (1994 and 1995) is also apparent, although these associations are less striking. The results demonstrate classification of rivers into flow regime regions offers a way to help unravel complex hydroecological associations. The approach adopted herein could easily be adapted for other geographical locations, where datasets are available. Such work is imperative to understand flow regime–ecology interactions in a longer term, wider spatial context and so assess future hydroecological responses to climate change and anthropogenic modification of riverine ecosystems. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.