Are Chironomidae (Diptera) good indicators of water scarcity? Dryland streams as a case study

Miguel Cañedo-Argüelles, Michael T. Bogan, David A. Lytle, Narcis Prat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Water scarcity is becoming one of the greatest challenges that human societies will face during this century. Monitoring water availability is expensive and technically challenging. In this regard, biological communities (e.g. aquatic insects) offer a cost-effective alternative, since they integrate temporal and spatial hydrological variability. Here we explore the potential of Chironomidae (Diptera), which have been usually neglected due to their complex taxonomy, as indicators of both local habitat condition and water scarcity. The study took place in 28 sites across seven dryland streams distributed within a 400 km2 section of the Upper San Pedro River basin, southeastern Arizona. The selected streams covered a wide range of hydrological variability, which was continuously measured through the deployment of 15 electrical resistance (ER) sensors. Chironomidae taxa with no drought-resistance strategies were rarely found in streams that experienced frequent drying events (i.e. intermittent and ephemeral streams), suggesting that droughts have the potential to reduce species richness due to local extinctions of drought-intolerant taxa. Intermittent and ephemeral streams registered low canopy cover and a significantly higher abundance of scrapers (which mainly feed on algae) and shredders (feeding on poorly decomposed coarse organic material). This suggests that structural changes associated to drought (e.g. reduced canopy cover and decomposition rates) might lead to changes in the functional composition of the Chironomidae assemblages. We conclude that Chironomidae species can be used as indicators of hydrological variability and the impacts of drought on streams in the absence of flow gauges.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-162
Number of pages8
JournalEcological Indicators
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016


  • Chironomidae
  • Drought resistance
  • Dryland streams
  • Ecological traits
  • Water scarcity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Decision Sciences
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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