An index to track the ecological effects of drought development and recovery on riverine invertebrate communities

© 2017 Elsevier Ltd In rivers, the ecological effects of drought typically result in gradual adjustments of invertebrate community structure and functioning, punctuated by sudden changes as key habitats, such as wetted channel margins, become dewatered and dry. This paper outlines the development and application of a new index (Drought Effect of Habitat Loss on Invertebrates – DEHLI) to quantify the effects of drought on instream macroinvertebrate communities by assigning weights to taxa on the basis of their likely association with key stages of channel drying. Two case studies are presented, in which the DEHLI index illustrates the ecological development of drought conditions and subsequent recovery. These examples demonstrate persistent drought effects months or several years after river flows recovered. Results derived using DEHLI are compared with an established macroinvertebrate flow velocity-reactive index (Lotic-invertebrate Index for Flow Evaluation – LIFE score) and demonstrates its greater sensitivity to drought conditions. Data from a number of rivers in south east England were used to calibrate a statistical model, which was then used to examine the response of DEHLI and LIFE to a hypothetical multi-year drought. This demonstrated a difference in response between sampling seasons, with the spring model indicating a lagged response due to delayed recolonisation and the autumn model differentiating habitat loss and flow velocity-driven responses. The application of DEHLI and the principles which underlie it allow the effects of drought on instream habitats and invertebrates associated with short or long term weather patterns to be monitored, whilst also allowing the identification of specific locations where intervention via river restoration, or revision of existing abstraction licensing, may be required to increase resilience to the effect of anthropogenic activities exacerbated by climate change.