Little is known regarding consequences of climate change on riparian plant functional types (PFTs) related to leaf traits, with putative domino effects on stream food webs, plausible even if the tipping point of stream-desiccation is not reached. We hypothesized that, as stream food-webs are highly dependent on riparian subsidies, climate change might alter PFTs to the point of weakening terrestrial-aquatic linkages. We conducted a gradient analysis to assess the relative effects of climate, soil and riparian physical characteristics on PFTs. If PFTs differ significantly in leaf traits and climate had major influences on them, we could assume space-for-time interchangeability forward in time to predict leaf traits changes, and consequences for stream food webs under future climate change scenarios. Results indicated a clear distinction in leaf traits among PFTs: woody deciduous plants showed leaf traits associated to high decomposability and nutritional value for invertebrate shredders compared to evergreen woody and giant graminoid groups.
We found a prime role of climate predicting changes in abundance and diversity of PFTs:
1) a warming and precipitation-decline scenario, coupled with soil characteristics related to aridification, would have detrimental effects on deciduous plants, while fostering giant graminoids;
2) in a scenario of no precipitation-reduction in wetter areas, warming might promote the expansion of evergreen to the detriment of deciduous plants.
In both scenarios the net outcome implies increasing recalcitrance of leaf litter inputs, potentially weakening terrestrial-aquatic linkages in headwater streams.