High flows are major disturbances in streams and cause benthic communities to vary temporally. Meltwater runoff in glacier-fed streams at temperate—arctic latitudes primarily follows a strong seasonal pattern. In contrast, such streams at the equator show less seasonal, but more-pronounced diel variability in discharge that tracks a year-round diurnal melting—nocturnal freezing cycle of glaciers. Consequently, qualitative and quantitative differences in temporal variability of macrobenthos communities should be expected between highlatitude and tropical glacier-fed streams. We explored temporal variability in density, taxon richness, and community composition of benthic macroinvertebrates and analyzed community responses to flow events at 3 sites along a glacier-fed stream in equatorial Ecuador (0.05, 1.6, and 4.3 km from the glacier front). We obtained continuous flow recordings and sampled fauna at approximately quarterly intervals over 30 mo. Temporal variability in the fauna was aseasonal. However, the overall magnitude of the coefficient of variability (CV) at the 3 sites was not lower than the CV at temperate latitudes. The explanatory power of flow did not differ among discharge parameters 3, 6, 9, 21, and 45 d before sampling. The effect of flow (slopes of regressions of faunal metrics vs flow) did not differ among sites, but the amount of variation explained by flow was significant only at the 2 downstream sites. Little synchrony was found in variability among sites, possibly because of differences among sites in physical characteristics (e.g., refugia space), which moderated the effect of disturbances, and taxonomic composition of communities. Our study is the first to show a close link between hydrological and biological fluctuations in an equatorial glacier-fed stream, a prerequisite for subsequent predictions of consequences of tropical glacier melting on diversity, composition, and stability of stream communities.
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Vol. 33 • No. 1