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Keywords:

  • headwater streams;
  • landscape;
  • macroinvertebrate diversity;
  • networks;
  • β-diversity

Summary

1. Headwater streams are ubiquitous in the landscape and are important sources of water, sediments and biota for downstream reaches. They are critical sites for organic matter processing and nutrient cycling, and may be vital for maintaining the ‘health’ of whole river networks.

2. Macroinvertebrates are an important component of biodiversity in stream ecosystems and studies of macroinvertebrate diversity in headwater streams have mostly viewed stream systems as linear reaches rather than as networks, although the latter may be more appropriate to the study of diversity patterns in headwater systems.

3. Studies of macroinvertebrate diversity in headwater streams from around the world illustrated that taxonomic richness is highly variable among continents and regions, and studies addressing longitudinal changes in taxonomic richness of macroinvertebrates generally found highest richness in mid-order streams.

4. When stream systems are viewed as networks at the landscape-scale, α-diversity may be low in individual headwater streams but high β-diversity among headwater streams within catchments and among catchments may generate high γ-diversity.

5. Differing ability and opportunity for dispersal of macroinvertebrates, great physical habitat heterogeneity in headwater streams, and a wide range in local environmental conditions may all contribute to high β-diversity among headwater streams both within and among catchments.

6. Moving beyond linear conceptual models of stream ecosystems to consider the role that spatial structure of river networks might play in determining diversity patterns at the landscape scale is a promising avenue for future research.