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States and rates: Complementary approaches to developing flow‐ecology relationships

September 28, 2017
  1. In recognition of the influence of flow on riverine habitats and organisms, stream ecologists have devoted considerable effort to the development of quantitative predictive relationships describing ecological responses to flow variability, i.e. flow‐ecology relationships.
  2. Methods used to generate flow‐ecology relationships can be thought of as a continuum bookended by pure states approaches on one end and by rates approaches on the other. In pure states approaches, the ecological response is a snapshot of a condition or property (i.e. a state) derived from a single measurement in time. In contrast, ecological responses in rates approaches reflect temporal change (i.e. a rate) and are thus reliant on repeated measurements made over time.
  3. Here, we elaborate on the fundamental characteristics of different approaches (pure states, rates and an intermediate approach we call repeated states) for generating flow‐ecology relationships, examine how commonly the different approaches are used in the flow‐ecology literature, conduct an independent analysis to illustrate the different outcomes achieved by applying repeated‐states and rates approaches using a dataset for stream fish diversity in relation to flow magnitude, and identify some of the different ways ecologists are applying rates approaches in flow ecology.
  4. Our literature review revealed that repeated‐states approaches (53% of reviewed studies) were used far more commonly than either pure states (19%) or rates (12%) approaches to generate flow‐ecology relationships. The remaining hybrid studies (17%) used both state and rate responses, and thus also relied on repeated measurements over time.
  5. Despite frequent collection of data suitable for rates approaches, flow‐ecology relationships have generally been developed using states approaches that relate changes in ecological states to different long‐term average flow conditions, rather than to specific flow sequences over much shorter time intervals. Such flow‐ecology relationships cannot generate temporally specific predictions of ecological responses to changing flow conditions (i.e. the expected change in state following a specific flow sequence), nor can they describe demographic processes underlying observed changes. While there are different scenarios in which a pure or repeated‐states approach would be useful, more frequent use of rates approaches would increase our ability to test flow‐ecology hypotheses and our mechanistic understanding of flow‐ecology relationships.
Publication Year 2018
Title States and rates: Complementary approaches to developing flow‐ecology relationships
DOI 10.1111/fwb.13001
Authors Kit Wheeler, Seth J. Wenger, Mary Freeman
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Freshwater Biology
Index ID 70202423
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Patuxent Wildlife Research Center