1. Benthic communities were sampled from five sites within a glacial catchment in the Cirque du Gavaranie, French Pyrénées, over two consecutive years (i) to investigate whether longitudinal patterns in zoobenthic communities exist downstream of a glacial margin and (ii) to identify the principal environmental variables influencing such patterns.
2. There was a distinct zonation of communities with increasing distance from the glacial margin. Ordination of the zoobenthic distribution indicated sites were separated by the relative contributions of taxa rather than their presence or absence. A shift in community composition and diversity separated a kryal type community dominated by Diamesa spp., Prosimulium spp., Eriopterini and Empididae at ≥2200 m a.s.l., from a more rhithral community of Orthocladiinae, Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera and Trichoptera at 1900 m a.s.l.
3. Chironomidae showed a defined gradient in distribution from Pseudokiefferiella parva and Diamesa latitarsis groups close to the glacier, through D. zernyi and D. cinerella groups, Orthocladius, Parametriocnemus and Micropsectra further downstream with Rheocricotopus, Corynoneura and Nilotanypus furthest from the glacial margin. Diamesa cinerella/zernyi group was the most euryzonal taxon.
4. Gradients in channel and hydraulic stability, groundwater input and mean water temperature were identified as the principal environmental variables associated with the downstream distribution gradient of zoobenthos. Diamesa, Empididae, Eriopterini and Nematoda were most tolerant of channel and hydraulically unstable and cold water habitats. Simuliidae (Prosimulium), Crenobia alpina, Rhyacophila, Chaetopterygini, Drusus rectus, Capnioneura, Orthocladius and Parametriocnemus were associated with intermediate conditions. Corynoneura, Tanypodinae, Perlidae, Chloroperlidae, Agapetus fuscipes and Coleoptera were least tolerant of channel and hydraulic instability and low water temperature.