1. A study on glacial stream ecosystems was carried out in six regions across Europe, from Svalbard to the French Pyrenees. The main aim was to test the validity of the conceptual model of Milner & Petts (1994) with regard to the zonation of chironomids of glacier-fed rivers along altitudinal and latitudinal gradient.
2. Channel stability varied considerably, both on the latitudinal and altitudinal scale, being lowest in the northern regions (Svalbard, Iceland and Norway) and the Swiss Alps. Water temperature at the upstream sites was always <2 °C.
3. There was a prominent difference in taxonomic richness between the Alpine and the northern European regions, with a higher number of taxa in the south. In all regions, the chironomid community was characterized by the genus Diamesa and the subfamily Orthocladiinae. Of a total of 63 taxa recorded, two (Diamesa bertrami and Orthocladius frigidus) were common in all the regions except Svalbard.
4. On the basis of cluster analysis, seven distinct groups of sites were evident amongst glacial-fed systems of the five regions (Pyrenees excluded). This classification separated the glacier-fed streams on geographical, latitudinal and downstream gradients.
5. Canonical Correspondence Analysis (CCA) of environmental variables was carried out using 41 taxa at 105 sites. Slope, water depth, distance from source, water temperature and the Pfankuch channel stability index were found to be the major explanatory environmental variables. The analysis separated Diamesinae and typical upstream orthoclads from the other chironomids by low temperature and high channel instability.
6. In all six regions, Diamesa was present closest to the glacier. Within 200 m of the glacier snout, other genera of Diamesinae were found together with Orthocladiinae. Pioneer taxa like Diamesa species coexisted with later colonizers like Eukiefferiella minor/fittkaui in relatively unstable channels.
7. The longitudinal succession of chironomid assemblages across altitudinal and latitudinal gradients in glacial streams followed the same pattern, with similar genera and groups of species. The general aspects of the conceptual model of Milner & Petts (1994) were supported. However, Diamesa species have wider temperature limits than predicted and other Diamesinae as well as Orthocladiinae colonize metakryal habitats.