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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Functional diversity of chironomid communities in subarctic lakes across gradients in temperature and catchment characteristics

Belle, Simon; Goedkoop, Willem


Northern ecosystems are experiencing rapid and large-scale changes driven by accelerated warming, which have profound effects on the terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity. A comprehensive understanding of the distribution of aquatic biodiversity of subarctic ecosystems is therefore needed to better predict future trajectories of their unique biodiversity. In this study, we examined the functional diversity of chironomid communities in subarctic lakes across a 1000 m-elevation gradient, reflecting gradual changes in temperature and landscape characteristics. Using fuzzy correspondence analyses, we investigated spatial variability in trait composition of chironomid communities from 100 lakes in northern Sweden, and tested the hypotheses that (1) climate directly and indirectly shapes chironomid trait composition across the studied gradient, and (2) that generalist taxa with smaller body size and broader food preferences are more able to persist in cold environments. Our results showed that complex interplays between direct (e.g. temperature) and indirect climate processes (e.g. elevation-driven changes in vegetation/habitats) affect the functional diversity of chironomid communities. Specifically, traits such as larval size, food preference and feeding habits were well separated along the gradient, and this pattern revealed that low elevation lakes with forested catchments tended to have more sediment-feeding taxa and larger larvae than those above the tree line. As expected, food resource availability in lakes is strongly linked to vegetation composition/cover, and traits related to resource exploitation in chironomid communities are therefore well constrained by landscape characteristics. Furthermore, our findings suggested that short life cycles could facilitate the development of viable population in northern and high-elevation lakes where the short ice-free period is a limiting factor, thus contradicting patterns showing smaller organisms in warmer environments reported for other invertebrates. As a consequence of climate warming, the highest elevation lakes in subarctic landscapes will likely lose their typical cold-adapted chironomid taxa along with their functional attributes leading to potential impacts on the food web structure and the overall functioning of northern lake ecosystems.


Biological traits; Chironomid; Community structure; Life history strategies; Climate change

Published in

2021, volume: 22, number: 1, pages: 5-16

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG13 Climate action

UKÄ Subject classification

Oceanography, Hydrology, Water Resources

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