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The influence of scale and geography on relationships between stream community composition and landscape variables: description and prediction


 Colin R. Townsend, Zoology Department, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand. E-mail:


SUMMARY 1. We analysed an existing database of macroinvertebrates and fish in the context of a newly established geographical information system (GIS) of physical features to determine the relationships between stream community composition and physical factors measured at three landscape scales – catchment, reach and bedform. Both an exploratory (concordance analysis) and a predictive (ausrivas) approach were used.

2. The environmental variables that most successfully accounted for variation in macroinvertebrate assemblages were mainly ‘natural’ and at the catchment-scale (relief ratio, basin diameter, etc.) but the human-induced physical setting of percentage of pasture in the riparian zone was also influential. For fish, ‘natural’ variables were also dominant, but these were mostly at the bedform or reach scales and land use featured strongly.

3. Geographic location accounted for some of the variation in invertebrate assemblages, partly because geography and influential conditions/resources are correlated but also because different species may have evolved in different places and have not colonised every ‘ecologically appropriate’ location. Geographic location was not influential in accounting for variation in assemblages of strongly flying invertebrates, supporting the hypothesis that organisms having high dispersal potential can be expected to break down geographic barriers more readily than those with poor dispersal powers. In accord with what is known about the local evolution and restricted distributions of native and exotic species, history (reflected in geography) appeared to account for some variation in fish assemblages.

4. Given their different mathematical bases, the fact that exploratory and predictive analyses yielded similar results provides added confidence to our conclusions.