Urban Ecosystems

, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 315–325 | Cite as

Urban impacts on tropical island streams: Some key aspects influencing ecosystem response

  • Alonso Ramírez
  • Augustin Engman
  • Keysa G. Rosas
  • Omar Perez-Reyes
  • Diana M. Martinó-Cardona


Improving our understanding of the impacts of urbanization on tropical island streams is critical as urbanization becomes a dominant feature in tropical areas. Although the “urban stream syndrome” has been successful in summarizing urban impacts on streams, the response of some island streams is different to that expected. Here we review available information on urban impacts to tropical island streams and describe unique responses to urbanization. We identified three key aspects that play particularly important or unique roles in determining tropical-island stream integrity: biotic response to water pollution, movement barriers along the stream network, and altered geomorphology that results in habitat loss. As expected, water pollution negatively impacts stream ecosystems in tropical islands and in some regions impacts can be severe, as untreated wastewaters are directly discharged into streams. While aquatic insects show the expected responses to pollution, other native fauna (e.g., shrimps and fishes) appear to be less impacted by moderate levels of pollution. Movement barriers along the stream network are especially important as much of the tropical island fauna have diadromous (either amphidromous or catadromous) life histories. Most native freshwater mollusks, shrimps, and fishes inhabiting tropical islands are diadromous and depend on unimpeded connections between freshwater and marine environments to complete their life cycles. The presence of these species in urban streams is best explained by longitudinal connectivity rather than by the degree of urban impact. Finally, in streams that remain connected to marine environments, the presence of native shrimps and fishes is strongly related to the physical habitat. Fish assemblages in channelized and severely altered stream reaches are almost completely devoid of native fauna and tend to be dominated by non-native species. In contrast, relatively diverse shrimp and fish assemblages can be found in reaches that retain their physical habitat complexity, even when they are impacted by urbanization. Our understanding of urban impacts on tropical island streams remains limited. However, the identification of key aspects can help us better understand urban impacts on streams in tropical islands, and best focus our management and research efforts to protect these unique ecosystems.


Urban streams Tropical island urban streams Urban stream syndrome Stream pollution Longitudinal connectivity Habitat heterogeneity 



We thank Chip Small, Seth Wenger and an anonymous reviewer for their comments on the manuscript. We also appreciate help by Sue Engman in editing the manuscript. Our urban stream research in Puerto Rico is part of the Luquillo Long-Term Ecological Research program (NSF DEB-0620910) and the San Juan ULTRA program (NSF 0948507).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alonso Ramírez
    • 1
  • Augustin Engman
    • 1
  • Keysa G. Rosas
    • 1
  • Omar Perez-Reyes
    • 2
  • Diana M. Martinó-Cardona
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Tropical Ecosystem StudiesUniversity of Puerto RicoSan JuanUSA
  2. 2.Watershed Sciences Department and The Ecology CenterUtah State UniversityLoganUSA

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