1. Spatial patterns of benthic-invertebrate communities were examined in the 62 900 km2 South Platte River Basin in Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming, U.S.A., to determine major environmental factors associated with invertebrate distribution. Stable substrates were sampled semiquantitalively for invertebrates from 27 July to 7 August 1992, at twenty-one sites. Data on physical and chemical variables were collected concurrently at each site.
2. Four site groups were identified using derrended correspondence analysis (DCA), one in the mountains and three in the plains (braided channels, tributaries near the confluence with the main stem, and sites affected by effluent from wastewater-treatment plants). DCA axis 1 separated sites into the two major ecoregions (Southern Rocky Mountains and Western High Plains), and regression of DCA axis 1 with environmental variables indicated significant relationships primarily with slope, water temperature, specific conductance, and concentrations of organic nitrogen + ammonia and total phosphorus in surface water. Regression of DCA axis 2 with environmental variables indicated significant relationships with channel width and concentrations of nitrate + nitrite in surface water.
3. Invertebrate community composition and structure varied between ecoregions with greater number of taxa and number of insect families in mountain streams than in plains streams. Within an ecoregion, land use affected the invertebrate community.
4. Factors affecting invertebrate community distribution in stream ecosystems are scale dependent.