River regulation and water management practices have led to alteration of the flood regimes of all large rivers in Germany. To investigate its influence on the terrestrial arthropod fauna, a comparative study was carried out on the distribution of ground beetles (Carabidae) and spiders (Araneae) at the potamal sections of three large rivers in northern Germany, the Rivers Weser, Elbe and Oder. The three rivers differ markedly in their flood dynamics, mainly owing to weirs and polder management practices, but also owing to natural conditions in their headwaters. In total, 45 sites were examined with a total capture of 46 727 carabid beetles and 38 066 adult spiders, representing 178 and 209 species, respectively. Using multivariate TWINSPAN analyses we found that the ground beetle species assemblages clearly varied according to the different flood regimes. By contrast, the spiders differentiate well between sites of different habitat structure.
In particular, the river margins hosted a specialized carabid fauna, and the alluvial Quercus–Ulmus forests were habitat for some rare and endangered carabid and spider species. Whereas the fauna of the strongly regulated River Weser was impoverished regarding stenotopic hygrophilous species, the fauna of the more natural Rivers Elbe and Oder depended very much on the duration and timing of the flooding, as well as on the local micro-topographical situation. It is concluded that low lying areas behind dykes of the Elbe, or in polders of the Oder, which become frequently inundated by river or ground water, are extremely valuable for invertebrate conservation. The data suggest that careful polder management may support suitable habitat creation for riparian species, as long as the inundation scheme corresponds to natural flood dynamics conditions. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.