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Keywords:

  • aquatic ecosystems;
  • anthropogenic change;
  • climate change;
  • instream flow;
  • riparian zones;
  • surface water hydrology;
  • water quality;
  • water temperature

ABSTRACT: We review published analyses of the effects of climate change on goods and services provided by freshwater ecosystems in the United States. Climate-induced changes must be assessed in the context of massive anthropogenic changes in water quantity and quality resulting from altered patterns of land use, water withdrawal, and species invasions; these may dwarf or exacerbate climate-induced changes. Water to meet instream needs is competing with other uses of water, and that competition is likely to be increased by climate change. We review recent predictions of the impacts of climate change on aquatic ecosystems in eight regions of North America. Impacts include warmer temperatures that alter lake mixing regimes and availability of fish habitat; changed magnitude and seasonality of runoff regimes that alter nutrient loading and limit habitat availability at low flow; and loss of prairie pothole wetlands that reduces waterfowl populations. Many of the predicted changes in aquatic ecosystems are a consequence of climatic effects on terrestrial ecosystems; shifts in riparian vegetation and hydrology are particularly critical. We review models that could be used to explore potential effects of climate change on freshwater ecosystems; these include models of instream flow, bioenergetics models, nutrient spiraling models, and models relating riverine food webs to hydrologic regime. We discuss potential ecological risks, benefits, and costs of climate change and identify information needs and model improvements that are required to improve our ability to predict and identify climate change impacts and to evaluate management options.