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Keywords:

  • alpine;
  • Diamesa;
  • glacial stream;
  • longitudinal zonation;
  • macroinvertebrates

1. Benthic macroinvertebrate distribution was examined in relation to channel characteristics (including stability), substratum, hydraulic variables, primary production (chlorophyll a) and coarse particular organic matter (CPOM) in an alpine glacial stream, the Mutt (Upper Rhône valley, Switzerland). Co-inertia analysis and canonical correspondence analysis were used to identify the major environmental gradients influencing community variations.

2. The Mutt (length: 3.6 km, altitudinal range: 1800–3099 m a.s.l.) exhibited typical characteristics of a kryal stream. Average summer temperature remained below 2 °C immediately downstream from the snout but was on average 5 °C higher 1700 m downstream. Seasonal variations in water sources were evidenced by the high late-summer (September) contribution of groundwater with increased conductivity.

3. Sixty-six taxa were recorded from the five reaches sampled at three periods (snowmelt, ice melt and low water in late summer) in 1996 and 1997, of which 29 were Chironomidae. Three taxa of Diamesinae were the first colonizers of the stream below the glacier, but 16 taxa, including Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera and Trichoptera, were already recorded 200 m downstream. Water depth, channel slope and Pfankuch’s Index of channel stability were strongly correlated with the longitudinal faunal gradient. Maximum temperature, current velocity and water conductivity were also correlated, but to a lesser extent.

4. The rapid incorporation of non-chironomid taxa into the stream community represented a departure from Milner & Petts’s (1994) conceptual model of invertebrate succession downstream of glacial margins. The results confirmed that glacial stream communities are primarily driven by physical determinants.