Landscape and climate alterations foreshadow global-scale shifts of river flow regimes. However, a theory that identifies the range of foreseen impacts on streamflows resulting from inhomogeneous forcings and sensitivity gradients across diverse regimes is lacking. Here, we derive a measurable index embedding climate and landscape attributes (the ratio of the mean interarrival of streamflow- producing rainfall events and the mean catchment response time) that discriminates erratic regimes with enhanced intraseasonal streamflow variability from persistent regimes endowed with regular flow patterns. Theoretical and empirical data show that erratic hydrological regimes typical of rivers with low mean discharges are resilient in that they hold a reduced sensitivity to climate fluctuations. The distinction between erratic and persistent regimes provides a robust framework for characterizing the hydrology of freshwater ecosystems and improving water management strategies in times of global change.
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