1. There has recently been increasing interest in patterns of beta diversity but we still lack a comprehensive understanding of these patterns in various regions (e.g. the tropics), ecosystems (e.g. streams) and organism groups (e.g. invertebrates).
2. Our aim was to investigate the patterns of beta diversity of stream macroinvertebrates in relation to key environmental (i.e. stream size, pH and habitat degradation) and geographical variables (i.e. latitude, longitude, altitude) in a tropical region. We surveyed a total of 8–10 riffle sites in each of 34 streams (altogether 337 riffle sites were sampled) in Peninsular Malaysia to examine variation in macroinvertebrate community composition at within-stream and among-stream scales.
3. Based on test of homogeneity of dispersion, we found that the streams studied differed significantly in within-stream variation in community composition (i.e. among-site variation of within stream beta diversity). The patterns were similar based on Bray–Curtis coefficient on abundance data, Sorensen coefficient on presence–absence data and Simpson coefficient on presence–absence data. We also found that within-stream beta diversity was significantly related to stream size, pH and latitude, with each of these variables individually accounting for around 20% of the variation in beta diversity in simple regressions, while the total variation explained by the three significant variables amounted to around 50% in multiple regressions. By contrast, habitat degradation, longitude and altitude were not significantly related to beta diversity. We also found that the factor drainage basin accounted for much of the variation in beta diversity in general linear models, suppressing the effects of environmental variables.
4. We concluded that within-stream beta diversity is mainly related to a combination of the identity of a drainage basin and stream environmental factors. Our findings provide important background for stream environmental assessment and conservation planning by emphasising that (i) macroinvertebrate communities within streams are not homogeneous, but show considerable beta diversity, (ii) streams differ in their degree of within-stream beta diversity, (iii) stream size and water pH should be considered in applied contexts related to within-stream beta diversity and (iv) historical effects may be different in different drainage basins and may affect present-day patterns of within-stream beta diversity.
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