Climate change and alpine stream biology: progress, challenges, and opportunities for the future

Scott Hotaling, Debra S. Finn, J. Joseph Giersch, David W. Weisrock, Dean Jacobsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


In alpine regions worldwide, climate change is dramatically altering ecosystems and affecting biodiversity in many ways. For streams, receding alpine glaciers and snowfields, paired with altered precipitation regimes, are driving shifts in hydrology, species distributions, basal resources, and threatening the very existence of some habitats and biota. Alpine streams harbour substantial species and genetic diversity due to significant habitat insularity and environmental heterogeneity. Climate change is expected to affect alpine stream biodiversity across many levels of biological resolution from micro- to macroscopic organisms and genes to communities. Herein, we describe the current state of alpine stream biology from an organism-focused perspective. We begin by reviewing seven standard and emerging approaches that combine to form the current state of the discipline. We follow with a call for increased synthesis across existing approaches to improve understanding of how these imperiled ecosystems are responding to rapid environmental change. We then take a forward-looking viewpoint on how alpine stream biologists can make better use of existing data sets through temporal comparisons, integrate remote sensing and geographic information system (GIS) technologies, and apply genomic tools to refine knowledge of underlying evolutionary processes. We conclude with comments about the future of biodiversity conservation in alpine streams to confront the daunting challenge of mitigating the effects of rapid environmental change in these sentinel ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2024-2045
Number of pages22
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Cambridge Philosophical Society


  • benthic
  • biodiversity
  • conservation biology
  • ecology
  • glacier recession
  • global change
  • lotic
  • macroinvertebrate
  • microbial ecology
  • mountain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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