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Keywords:

  • Temporal variability;
  • community structure;
  • species richness;
  • refugia;
  • statistical averaging;
  • stream;
  • benthic macroinvertebrates

Abstract

Although all natural systems are heterogeneous, the direct influence of spatial heterogeneity on most ecological variables is unknown. In many systems, spatial heterogeneity is positively correlated with both microhabitat refugia and species richness. Both an increased number of microhabitat refugia and the effects of statistical averaging via increased species richness should lead to an inverse relationship between spatial heterogeneity and variability in community composition. To test this prediction, I measured diversity and temporal variability of invertebrate communities in a northern New Hampshire stream along a natural gradient of spatial heterogeneity formed by variation in stream substrates. On average, there was a 42% decrease in community variability along a gradient of increasing heterogeneity. This pattern was robust to changes in metrics of both heterogeneity and community variability. There was also a significant positive relationship between taxon richness and spatial heterogeneity with predicted taxon richness increasing c. 1.5× along the heterogeneity gradient. By resampling community abundance data, I estimated that statistical averaging accounted for only 4% of the observed decrease in community variability in this study. I concluded that the remaining decrease was very likely explained by a greater number of refugia from predation and/or flooding in high-heterogeneity habitats. The results of this study suggest that maximizing heterogeneity in ecological restoration programmes may promote temporally stable and diverse communities and may aid in responsible management of aquatic resources.