Efects of multiple stressors on river bioflms depend on the time scale

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Global change exposes ecosystems to a myriad of stressors differing in their spatial (i.e. surface of stressed area) and temporal (i.e. exposure time) components. Among freshwater ecosystems, rivers and streams are subject to physical, chemical and biological stressors, which interact with each other and might produce diverging effects depending on exposure time. We conducted a manipulative experiment using 24 artificial streams to examine the individual and combined effects of warming (1.6 °C increase in water temperature), hydrological stress (simulated low-flow situation) and chemical stress caused by pesticide exposure (15.1–156.7 ng L−1) on river biofilms. We examined whether co-occurring stressors could lead to non-additive effects, and if these differed at two different exposure times. Specifically, structural and functional biofilm responses were assessed after 48 hours (short-term effects) and after 30 days (long-term effects) of exposure. Hydrological stress caused strong negative impacts on river biofilms, whereas effects of warming and pesticide exposure were less intense, although increasing on the long term. Most stressor combinations (71%) resulted in non-significant interactions, suggesting overall additive effects, but some non-additive interactions also occurred. Among non-additive interactions, 59% were classified as antagonisms after short-term exposure to the different stressor combinations, rising to 86% at long term. Our results indicate that a 30-day exposure period to multiple stressors increases the frequency of antagonistic interactions compared to a 48-hour exposure to the same conditions. Overall, the impacts of multiple-stressor occurrences appear to be hardly predictable from individual effects, highlighting the need to consider temporal components such as duration when predicting the effects of multiple stressors ​
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