1. According to the guidelines of the European Water Framework Directive, assessment of the ecological quality of streams and rivers should be based on ecotype-specific reference conditions. Here, we assess two approaches for establishing a typology for Mediterranean streams: a top-down approach using environmental variables and bottom-up approach using macroinvertebrate assemblages.
2. Classification of 162 sites using environmental variables resulted in five ecotypes: (i) temporary streams; (ii) evaporite calcareous streams at medium altitude; (iii) siliceous headwater streams at high altitude; (iv) calcareous headwater streams at medium to high altitude and (v) large watercourses.
3. Macroinvertebrate communities of minimally disturbed sites (n = 105), grouped using UPGMA (unweighted pair-group method using arithmetic averages) on Bray–Curtis similarities, were used to validate four of the five ecotypes obtained using environmental variables; ecotype 5, large watercourses, was not included as this group had no reference sites.
4. Analysis of similarities (anosim) showed that macroinvertebrate assemblage composition differed among three of the four ecotypes, resulting in differences between the bottom-up and top-down classification approaches. Siliceous streams were clearly different from the other three ecotypes, evaporite and calcareous ecotypes did not show large differences in macroinvertebrate assemblages and temporary streams formed a very heterogeneous group because of large variability in salinity and hydrology.
5. This study showed that stream classification schemes based on environmental variables need to be validated using biological variables. Furthermore, our findings indicate that special attention should be given to the classification of temporary streams.