• Fluctuations;
  • metapopulations;
  • river networks;
  • stability;
  • synchronisation


Spatial structure in landscapes impacts population stability. Two linked components of stability have large consequences for persistence: first, statistical stability as the lack of temporal fluctuations; second, synchronisation as an aspect of dynamic stability, which erodes metapopulation rescue effects. Here, we determine the influence of river network structure on the stability of riverine metapopulations. We introduce an approach that converts river networks to metapopulation networks, and analytically show how fluctuation magnitude is influenced by interaction structure. We show that river metapopulation complexity (in terms of branching prevalence) has nonlinear dampening effects on population fluctuations, and can also buffer against synchronisation. We conclude by showing that river transects generally increase synchronisation, while the spatial scale of interaction has nonlinear effects on synchronised dynamics. Our results indicate that this dual stability – conferred by fluctuation and synchronisation dampening – emerges from interaction structure in rivers, and this may strongly influence the persistence of river metapopulations.