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Hurry up and wait: life cycle and distribution of an intermittent stream specialist (Mesocapnia arizonensis)

Species inhabiting intermittent streams must have life-history traits that confer resistance or resilience to flow cessation or drying. However, we lack basic life-history information for most aquatic invertebrate species, especially those from intermittent streams. I documented the life cycle and distribution of an unusual winter stonefly species, Mesocapnia arizonensis (Capniidae). The species was first described from 6 localities in 1969, but its natural history remained enigmatic. I surveyed >90 streams across the southwestern USA, documented the life cycle of M. arizonensis at 1 locality, and experimentally rehydrated dry streambed sediment in search of dormant stoneflies at another locality. Field surveys expanded the number of localities from 22 to 98, most of which were intermittent with flow durations as brief as 3 mo/y, and extended the known range of the species by 800 km. Nymphs were abundant within days of flow resumption, grew rapidly as a single cohort, and started emerging as adults 42 d after flow resumed. The brief appearance of a 2nd cohort of tiny nymphs 1 mo before the stream dried indicates direct hatching of at least some eggs. I failed to find dormant stoneflies in the top 30 cm of dry stream sediment, suggesting that M. arizonensis undergoes dormancy deep in the substrate, putting it safely out of reach of scouring summer floods that occur between favorable winter seasons. The remarkable ability of M. arizonensis to survive in short-flow duration streams and to endure multiple consecutive dry years, suggests that the species is well prepared for the drier climatic conditions predicted to occur across its range.