1. Gene flow in populations of stream insects is expected to depend on the distance between and the connectedness of sites in stream networks, and on dispersal ability (i.e. larval drift and adult flight).
2. Yoraperla brevis (Banks) is an abundant and characteristic stonefly of smaller streams in the northern Rocky Mountains. The present authors analysed genetic structure at 27 sites in sevenz streams flowing into the Bitterroot River in western Montana, USA. Cellulose acetate electrophoresis identified five variable loci with 16 alleles.
3. Genotype frequencies conformed to Hardy–Weinberg expectations. Within-stream differentiation was low and among-stream variation (Fst) was an order of magnitude higher.
4. UPGMA grouped sites within streams and also grouped adjacent streams. The tree produced by the Neighbour Joining Method was similar although not quite so clear cut.
5. This orderly pattern (i.e. Hardy–Weinberg proportions, homogeneity within streams and geographical structure) contrasts strongly with patterns observed in invertebrates from subtropical streams in Australia. Yoraperla brevis maintains large populations in predictable environments, has a long life-cycle with a likelihood of cohort mixing, emerges synchronously in large breeding populations and occupies streams separated by areas of high relief; the Australian situation is the opposite in most respects.
6. Further analysis of a range of species is required to determine whether the different genetic structure in Y. brevis compared to the Australian species occurs more generally in North American stream insects.