The rehabilitation of lowland rivers subjected to channelization and artificial levee construction should attempt to improve habitat heterogeneity and diversity of floodplain hydrological connectivity. However, rehabilitation efforts rarely consider the importance of variable lateral hydrological connectivity between floodplain waterbodies and main river channels (ranging from those permanently connected to those temporarily connected during river level rises), instead focusing on increasing individual floodplain waterbody connectivity. This study investigated the young-of-the-year (YoY) fish communities in 10 artificial floodplain waterbodies of variable hydrological connectivity with the river Trent, England, between May and November 2006, inclusive. Floodplain waterbody connectivity to the main river was positively correlated with the number of species captured (alpha diversity), Shannon–Wiener diversity, Margalef's species richness index and the relative abundance of rheophilic species and negatively correlated with species turnover (beta diversity). YoY fish communities in poorly connected water bodies were most dissimilar to riverine communities. The results demonstrate the importance of variable lateral connectivity between artificial floodplain waterbodies and main river channels when rehabilitating lowland river fish communities. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.