1. Comparative studies of distinct, but not ecologically isolated, systems such as lakes and streams may improve our understanding of the importance of ecological linkages in aquatic ecosystems.
2. In this study we compared the macroinvertebrate benthos of stony habitats in Swedish lakes and streams. Community composition was used to evaluate zoogeographic patterns and functional feeding guilds were used to identify mechanisms potentially affecting such patterns.
3. Stream communities were generally more diverse and species-rich and had a higher proportion of grazers, shredders and passive-filter feeders than lakes. Lake communities had a higher proportion of predators and collector-gatherers. Of the 10 most common taxa, only Leptophlebia mayflies, clams (Sphaeriidae) and the isopod Asellus aquaticus were recorded in both lakes and streams.
4. Among-site variance in macroinvertebrate communities accounted for by regional-scale variables was low (6.4% for lakes and 10.1% for streams), compared with that by local-scale variables (21% for lakes and 37.6% for streams). For lakes, the among-site variance in macroinvertebrate communities was best explained by habitat-scale characteristics followed by ecosystem, riparian, catchment, geographic position and ecoregion. For streams, the variance in macroinvertebrate communities was best explained by ecosystem characteristics followed by habitat, catchment, riparian, ecoregion and geographic position.
5. Conspicuous differences in spatial pattern were revealed between lakes and streams. For lakes, the most unequivocal differences in community composition and function occurred at the transition zone between the mixed forests in the south and the boreal coniferous forests in the north. Surprisingly, streams did not respond as strongly to profound landscape-level differences in climate and vegetation cover.
6. The spatial differences noted between macroinvertebrate communities of lakes and streams may be because of differences in retention of detrital matter. Our findings imply that detrital inputs are qualitatively similar, but that the retention and processing of coarse particulate organic matter was presumably higher in lake littoral regions than in stream riffle habitats.
7. Although our findings support the conjecture that species distribution is determined fundamentally by conditions prevailing at the local-scale, regional factors such as land use/type and the role of history were important and seemingly act as strong determinants of large-scale patterns in biodiversity.