Aquatic species living in running waters are widely acknowledged to be vulnerable to climate‐induced, thermal and hydrological fluctuations. Climate changes can interact with other environmental changes to determine structural and functional attributes of communities. Although such complex interactions are most likely to occur in a multiple‐stressor context as frequently encountered in large rivers, they have received little attention in such ecosystems. In this study, we aimed at specifically addressing the issue of relative long‐term effects of global and local changes on benthic macroinvertebrate communities in multistressed large rivers. We assessed effects of hydroclimatic vs. water quality factors on invertebrate community structure and composition over 30 years (1979–2008) in the Middle Loire River, France. As observed in other large European rivers, water warming over the three decades (+0.9 °C between 1979–1988 and 1999–2008) and to a lesser extent discharge reduction (−80 m3 s−1) were significantly involved in the disappearance or decrease in taxa typical from fast running, cold waters (e.g. Chloroperlidae and Potamanthidae). They explained also a major part of the appearance and increase of taxa typical from slow flowing or standing waters and warmer temperatures, including invasive species (e.g. Corbicula sp. and Atyaephyra desmarestii). However, this shift towards a generalist and pollution tolerant assemblage was partially confounded by local improvement in water quality (i.e. phosphate input reduction by about two thirds and eutrophication limitation by almost one half), explaining a significant part of the settlement of new pollution‐sensitive taxa (e.g. the caddisfly Brachycentridae and Philopotamidae families) during the last years of the study period. The regain in such taxa allowed maintaining a certain level of specialization in the invertebrate community despite climate change effects.
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