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Intermittent rivers and ephemeral streams: Perspectives for critical zone science and research on socio‐ecosystems

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Abstract Intermittent rivers and ephemeral streams (IRES) are now recognized to support specific freshwater biodiversity and ecosystem services and represent approximately half of the global river network, a fraction that is likely to increase in the context of global changes. Despite large research efforts on IRES during the past few decades, there is a need for developing a systemic approach to IRES that considers their hydrological, hydrogeological, hydraulic, ecological, and biogeochemical properties and processes, as well as their interactions with human societies. Thus, we assert that the interdisciplinary approach to ecosystem research promoted by critical zone sciences and socio‐ecology is relevant. These approaches rely on infrastructure—Critical Zone Observatories (CZO) and Long‐Term Socio‐Ecological Research (LTSER) platforms—that are representative of the diversity of IRES (e.g., among climates or types of geology. We illustrate this within the French CZO and LTSER, including their diversity as socio‐ecosystems, and detail human interactions with IRES. These networks are also specialized in the long‐term observations required to detect and measure ecosystem responses of IRES to climate and human forcings despite the delay and buffering effects within ecosystems. The CZO and LTSER platforms also support development of innovative techniques and data analysis methods that can improve characterization of IRES, in particular for monitoring flow regimes, groundwater‐surface water flow, or water biogeochemistry during rewetting. We provide scientific and methodological perspectives for which this interdisciplinary approach and its associated infrastructure would provide relevant and original insights that would help fill knowledge gaps about IRES. This article is categorized under: Water and Life > Stresses and Pressures on Ecosystems Science of Water > Hydrological Processes Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness
Location of French Critical Zone Observatories (CZO) of the OZCAR network (yellow) and Long‐Term Socio‐Ecological Research (LTSER) platforms of the RZA network (red) with flow intermittence along a variety of natural and human gradients in (a) the Eastern Hemisphere and (b) France. Catchment characteristics are listed in Table 2. Sites in orange belong to both networks
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Global maps of the intermittent rivers and ephemeral streams (IRES) percentage (calculated as the ratio of IRES length to total stream length at a 7.5 arc‐sec resolution) according to AQUAMAPS (FAO, 2014) and Schneider et al. (2017). The violet color north of 60°N indicates where HydroSHEDS topographic data (Lehner, Verdin, & Jarvis, 2008), on which both datasets are based, are missing. Adapted from Schneider et al. (2017)
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Hydrometric station (ZABR Rivières Cévenoles, OHMCV observatory) of the Auzon River at Vogüé‐Gare, an intermittent tributary of the Ardèche River (France): (a) location of the camera and radar gauge, (b) example of a surface‐velocity field calculated from an image sequence during a flash‐flood event, (c) the stage‐discharge rating curve established mostly from nonintrusive radar and video (LSPIV) gaugings for only 3 years, and (d) views of the river for dry, low‐flow, and flood conditions, from left to right
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Adaptation of butterflies to alternating wet and dry seasons in relation to dynamics of intermittent rivers and ephemeral streams (IRES) in dry tropical forests. Case study of Morelos State (UNESCO Biosphere reserve of the “Sierra de Huautla” and State reserve of the “Sierra de Montenegro”, central Mexico). Although most butterfly species diapause in the dry season, and some species reduce their densities considerably, other species have strategies related to the available water features and dynamics of IRES. Four main strategies are observed (numbers indicate example species) at certain types of sites (bold letters), descending order of frequency. (1) During the wet season, 60–70% of the species fly in open areas c but take refuge near remaining muddy areas along IRES d during the dry season or alternatively reach the coolest areas of primary forest e. Example of Eurema daira (Coliadinae, Pieridae) whose color changes by season: 4 in the wet season; 5 in the dry season (Jones & Rienks, 1987; Legal, Dorado, Albre, Bermúdez Torres, & Lopez, 2017; Legal et al., 2020; Young, 1982). (2) Some species are rarely observed during the wet season because they fly exclusively along little streams occurring in deep forest e, with water flowing only during the wet season. During the dry season, these species fly down the catchment (from E and F, with a recording camera) to the main course (d and b—small deep canyons) to seek moisture. Example of Siproeta epaphus: 6 and 7, (Nymphalinae, Nymphalidae), a rare species for Morelos (Legal et al., 2017). (3) Certain species (Nymphalidae, Biblidinae), which feed on rotting fruit, change sexual behavior by season. The model species is Myscelia cyananthe: 3 (Torres, Osorio‐Beristain, Mariano, & Legal, 2009). During the wet season, males and females are widespread in all cool forest areas e, while during the dry season, females move massively along IRES b, d where rotten wet fruit is available (Torres et al., 2009). (4) The genus Calephelis (Riodininae, Lycaenidae) is one of the most diverse in the Americas, with ca. 50 morphologically similar species. In the study area, two species closely related to IRES fly: Calephelis matheri 1 and Calephelis yautepecensis 2. The former flies only during the wet season along rivers a and at lower densities in open fields c, while the latter flies only along the widest IRES b, d and only during the dry season. The hypothesis of a single species with two seasonal forms has been explored. The two species have identical mitochondrial DNA, but significantly different nuclear DNA markers (ISSR) (Legal et al., 2017). Source of images: Luc Legal©
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(a) The hydrographic river network in Burkina Faso at 1:200,000 scale showing intermittent rivers and ephemeral streams (IRES, in red) and perennial streams (in blue) (source: Base Nationale de Données Topographiques of the Institut Géographique du Burkina Faso) and gauging stations of the national hydrometric services (source: Direction Générale des Ressources en Eau) with more than 4 years of discharge data. (b) Distribution of IRES and perennial streams in Burkina Faso as a function of Strahler order in the full network and at the gauging stations. The Strahler order (Strahler, 1957) of the river network was calculated using Rivex (Hornby, Duncan, 2020), under ESRI ArcGIS software (version 10.6.1)
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Contrasting trends of intermittent stream flow in two OZCAR observatories. (a) In the Vaubarnier catchment (Réal Collobrier Observatory, France), there is a significant decreasing trend of monthly flows for March from 1967–2017 (Sen's slope of linear trend = −0.862 mm/month, adapted from Folton et al. (2019), data are available on the BDOH database: https://bdoh.irstea.fr/REAL‐COLLOBRIER/). (b) In Agoufou catchment (Amma‐Catch Observatory, Mali), annual inflow into Lake Agoufou clearly increased from 1960–1990 to 2000–2015 (data sets: DOI: 10.17178/AMMA‐CATCH.CL.Rain_GT and 10.17178/AMMA‐CATCH.CL.Pond_Gha)
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The diversity of hydrological intermittence characteristics among flow (Q) and rain (R) records of certain observatories. Characteristics of flow interruption vary widely among sites. Some records illustrate seasonal flow interruption for a short period of the year (≤ 3 months) in temperate (a. AgrHyS), Mediterranean (b. Réal Collobrier), or semi‐arid (c. Auradé) climates. Others illustrate a dry phase for most of the year (≥ 6 months) and a wet season during which water flows after storm events in tropical (d. M‐TROPICS and e. AMMA‐CATCH) or Mediterranean (f. OMERE) climates
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Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness
Science of Water > Hydrological Processes
Water and Life > Stresses and Pressures on Ecosystems

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