Send to:

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Sci Total Environ. 2014 Sep 15;493:1242-54. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2014.02.126. Epub 2014 Mar 17.

The use of invertebrates as indicators of environmental change in alpine rivers and lakes.

Author information

  • 1School of Geography Earth and Environmental Science, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK.
  • 2School of Geography/water@leeds, University of Leeds, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK.
  • 3DSTA, Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra e dell'Ambiente, University of Pavia, Via Ferrata 9, 27100 Pavia, Italy; Alpine Wildlife Research Centre, Gran Paradiso National Park, Degioz 11, I-1101 Valsavarenche, Aosta, Italy.
  • 4School of Geography Earth and Environmental Science, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK; Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK 99775, USA. Electronic address:


In alpine regions climatic change will alter the balance between water sources (rainfall, ice-melt, snowmelt, and groundwater) for aquatic systems, particularly modifying the relative contributions of meltwater, groundwater and rain to both rivers and lakes. While these changes are expected to have implications for alpine aquatic ecosystems, little is known about potential ecological tipping points and associated indicator taxa. We examined changes in biotic communities along a gradient of glacier influence for two study systems: (1) a stream network in the French Pyrénées; and (2) a network of lakes in the Italian Alps, with the aim of identifying potential indicator taxa (macroinvertebrates and zooplankton) of glacier retreat in these environments. To assess parallels in biotic responses across streams and lakes, both primary data and findings from other publications were synthesised. Using TITAN (Threshold Indicator Taxa ANalysis) changes in community composition of river taxa were identified at thresholds of <5.1% glacier cover and <66.6% meltwater contribution. Below these thresholds the loss of cold stenothermic benthic invertebrate taxa, Diamesa spp. and the Pyrenean endemic Rhyacophila angelieri was apparent. Some generalist taxa including Protonemura sp., Perla grandis, Baetis alpinus, Rhithrogena loyolaea and Microspectra sp. increased when glacier cover was <2.7% and <52% meltwater. Patterns were not as distinct for the alpine lakes, due to fewer sampling sites; however, Daphnia longispina grp. and the benthic invertebrate groups Plectopera and Planaria were identified as potential indicator taxa. While further work is required to assess potential indicator taxa for alpine lake systems, findings from alpine river systems were consistent between methods for assessing glacier influence (meltwater contribution/glacier cover). Hence, it is clear that TITAN could become a useful management tool, enabling: (i) the identification of taxa particularly sensitive to glacier retreat; and (ii) conservation efforts/resources to be better directed in alpine aquatic systems.

Copyright © 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Alpine aquatic systems; Climate change; Glacier retreat; Indicator species; Macroinvertebrates; Zooplankton

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for Elsevier Science
    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk