Determinants of macroinvertebrate diversity in headwater streams: regional and local influences


Jani Heino, Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, POB 35, 40351 Jyväskylä, Finland. E-mail:


  • 1Multiscale determinants of diversity and the relationship between regional (RSR) and local richness (LSR) have recently attracted increased attention, yet such studies on stream organisms remain scarce. We studied the relationships among RSR, β-diversity, LSR and local environmental variables in 120 headwater streams in Finland. Approximately similar-sized areas of eight drainage systems were defined as regions, and 15 stream riffles (= locality) per region were sampled.
  • 2RSR showed a strong positive relationship with mean LSR (R2 = 0·686), and there was no sign of curvilinearity within the observed range of RSR. RSR was also positively, although non-significantly, related to β-diversity (r = 0·662).
  • 3In stepwise regression, RSR was the first variable to enter the model, and a model incorporating RSR and stream width explained 32·5% of variation in LSR. If RSR was omitted from the model, then stream width emerged as the most important variable, followed by water pH, which together accounted for 20·6% of variation in LSR.
  • 4At the within-region scale, different variables were important in accounting for variation in LSR. Factors correlated with LSR reflected either stream size, spatial heterogeneity, adverse water chemistry conditions (pH), or a limiting resource base for macroinvertebrates (nutrient concentrations).
  • 5The major role of RSR in setting the upper limit to LSR suggests that macroinvertebrate assemblages of boreal headwater streams are unsaturated. This finding is supported by evidence from experimental studies, where it has been shown that competitive interactions among stream macroinvertebrates are effective only at very small spatial scales, and competitive exclusion is prevented typically by frequent disturbances. However, although RSR was generally the most influential variable contributing to LSR, it is far from clear whether RSR consistently sets the limits to LSR, or vice versa. For instance, uniformly adverse water chemistry conditions across a region may lead to low levels of local richness and low species turnover among sites, leading eventually to an impoverished regional species pool.
  • 6These findings do not deny the importance of local factors, but emphasize that understanding the organization of stream benthic communities requires simultaneous examination of factors prevailing at multiple spatial scales.