We present a conceptual model for the ecology of the spring snowmelt recession based on the natural flow regime that relates the quantifiable components of magnitude, timing, and rate of change to abiotic and biotic factors that govern riverine processes. We find that shifts in the magnitude of the recession largely affect abiotic channel conditions, whereas shifts in the timing of the snowmelt primarily affect biotic conditions. Shifts in the rate of change affect both abiotic and biotic conditions, creating the largest observed changes to the stream ecosystem. We discuss these components with regard to the success of riverine species in California's Mediterranean-montane environment. We then present two scenarios of change to the spring snowmelt recession—effects of flow regulation and climate warming—and discuss their potential implications for riverine ecology. Our conceptual model can help guide watershed stakeholders toward a better understanding of the impacts of changing spring recession conditions on stream ecosystems.
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Vol. 60 • No. 2