1. Many studies have shown traditional species diversity indices to perform poorly in discriminating anthropogenic influences on biodiversity. By contrast, in marine systems, taxonomic distinctness indices that take into account the taxonomic relatedness of species have been shown to discriminate anthropogenic effects. However, few studies have examined the performance of taxonomic distinctness indices in freshwater systems.
2. We studied the performance of four species diversity indices and four taxonomic distinctness indices for detecting anthropogenic effects on stream macroinvertebrate assemblages. Further, we examined the effects of catchment type and area, as well as two variables (pH and total phosphorus) potentially describing anthropogenic perturbation on biodiversity.
3. We found no indications of degraded biodiversity at the putatively disturbed sites. However, species density, rarefied species richness, Shannon's diversity and taxonomic diversity showed higher index values in streams draining mineral as opposed to peatland catchments.
4. Of the major environmental gradients analysed, biodiversity indices showed the strongest relationships with catchment area, lending further support to the importance of stream size for macroinvertebrate biodiversity. Some of the indices also showed weak linear and quadratic relationships to pH and total phosphorus, and residuals from the biodiversity index-catchment area regressions (i.e. area effect standardized) were more weakly related to pH and total phosphorus than the original index values.
5. There are a number of reasons why the biodiversity indices did not respond to anthropogenic perturbation. First, some natural environmental gradients may mask the effects of perturbation on biodiversity. Secondly, perturbations of riverine ecosystems in our study area may not be strong enough to cause drastic changes in biodiversity. Thirdly, multiple anthropogenic stressors may either increase or decrease biodiversity, and thus the coarse division of sites into reference and altered streams may be an oversimplification.
6. Although neither species diversity nor taxonomic distinctness indices revealed anthropogenic degradation of macroinvertebrate assemblages in this study, the traditional species diversity and taxonomic distinctness indices were very weakly correlated. Therefore, we urge that biodiversity assessment and conservation planning should utilize a number of different indices, as they may provide complementary information about biotic assemblages.