• community variation;
  • extent;
  • grain;
  • nested analysis of variance;
  • spatial scales

Our ability to detect patterns of variation of communities depends on the spatial scale of observation. I examined the spatial variation of macroinvertebrate community structure: abundance, richness, evenness, percentage of Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera and Trichoptera (EPT), and taxonomic composition across a wide range of spatial scales in two mountain streams. In a nested design, three segments were selected within each basin, three riffles within each segment, three sections within each riffle, and three samples within each section. Significant variation of communities occurred mainly at sample and riffle scales, although different community characteristics may vary at different scales. Environmental factors were strongly related to communities, but these relationships depended on spatial scale in many cases, suggesting that the influence of the environment is ultimately regulated by the grain and extent of organisms. This study highlights the importance of multiscale studies to obtain a complete understanding of the spatial variation of macroinvertebrate communities and their relationship with the environment.