Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 63–68
In aquatic ecosystems, water flow mediates the delivery of reproductive propagules, competition and predation, each of which may have contrasting effects on biodiversity. Here, we show that water flow has a net positive effect on the biodiversity of benthic invertebrate communities in three biogeographic regions. In Palau and Alaska, flow velocity predicted 55–91% of the variance in species richness in natural communities. In experimental communities in Alaska and Maine, enhanced water flow treatments resulted in higher levels of species density (+56%) and richness (+74%), which were predicted by the abundance of locally rare species. Additionally, the richness of recruitment was higher in experimentally enhanced flows (+46%). Thus, the data suggest that flow drives diversity by mediating the delivery of rare species in multiple biogeographic regions. Consequently, flow velocity should be included in future developments of diversity theory and conservation strategy.