1. In each of twenty-six week-long experiments, the colonization by macroinvertebrates of boxes of natural sediment in a stony stream was measured. The experiments took place between February and November 1992 and environmental conditions prevailing during the weeks (particularly discharge and temperature) differed widely.
2. Colonization rate also varied widely between the weekly experiments and was sensitive to discharge, temperature and background benthic density, depending on the taxa considered.
3. A ‘mobility index’ measured colonization rate independently of background benthic density. This index was most strongly and positively correlated with discharge for the abundant stonefly Leuctra nigra, the net-spinning caddis Plectrocnemia conspersa and the Chironomidae, perhaps indicating that their mobility is physically driven by the influence of flow on drift.
4. Mobility in a second stonefly (Nemurella pictetii) was greatest in summer, when flows were low but temperature was high. Peak mobility in this species occurred during an ochreous bloom on the stream bed. It is likely the mobility of N. pictetii is more active than the other taxa.
5. There were thus differences among taxa in their mobility at baseflow and in their susceptibility to flow fluctuations. The population consequences of differences in mobility among taxa are discussed.