1. Modern records of 165 species of wetland beetle (Haliplidae, Hygrobiidae, Noteridae, Dytiscidae, Gyrinidae, Georissidae, Hydrochidae, Helophoridae, Hydrophilidae, Hydraenidae, Scirtidae, Dryopidae, Elmidae, Chrysomelidae, Curculionidae) were assembled for analysis.
2. Two hundred and eighty nine modern lists of seven or more species of water beetle from sites in Ireland were subjected to multivariate analysis.
3. Ten assemblage types were identified using TWINSPAN. Habitats typical of these assemblages are: A. deep rivers; B. rivers with riffles; C. puddles; D. canals and lakes with rich vegetation; E. ponds and ditches; F. turloughs; G. natural, minerotrophic fens; H. base-flushed cutover bogs; I. peat bogs; J. montane flushes. The distribution of these types is discussed.
4. Ordination of site data by DECORANA indicated that the important environmental variables dictating water beetle assemblage type in Ireland were: flow; water permanence; exposure; type of substratum. Acidity could not be isolated as a determinant, except within the analysis of assemblage types conducted using TWINSPAN. DECORANA isolated one brackish site as an outlier but salinity was not otherwise a major factor, probably because few brackish sites were included in the analysis.
5. The number of modern records for each species was used to provide a provisional set of species-quality scores. A simple rationale was devised to weight these scores in favour of relict species and against elusive species, species with short-lived adults and species primarily associated with man-made habitats.
6. The average species-quality score per site and the number of species recorded were used to rank sites within each TWINSPAN end-group. The most diverse sites with the highest quality were some turloughs, rich fens and base-flushed peat cutting complexes. Some montane lakes and flushes with relatively few species had high species-quality scores.