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Loss of small glaciers will diminish beta diversity in Pyrenean streams at two levels of biological organization


Debra S. Finn, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT UK. E-mail:


Aim  Small (< 1 km2) alpine glaciers are likely to disappear in this century, resulting in decreased regional habitat heterogeneity in associated streams. Both heterogeneity within and spatial isolation among glacier-influenced streams can enhance beta diversity of stream-dwelling organisms. We measured beta at both community and population-genetic levels within and among streams currently influenced by small Pyrenean glaciers. We aimed to evaluate whether patterns are analogous between the two levels, to apply various approaches for characterizing beta, and to infer the outcome of future glacier loss on regional biodiversity.

Location  Four glacier-fed basins in the Parc National des Pyrénées, France.

Methods  We classified each of 18 stream reaches across the basins into either high-, mid- or low-‘glaciality’ (glacial influence) groups according to four physicochemical characteristics. At each reach, we collected macroinvertebrate communities and evaluated mitochondrial DNA haplotypes for 11–13 individuals of Baetis alpinus Pictet. Using taxa/haplotypes as basic units, we evaluated community and population-genetic beta diversity simultaneously. We measured beta diversity in three major ways: as multivariate (Sørensen's dissimilarity, Jost D) and ‘classical’ (gamma/alpha) variation to compare among glaciality groups, and as turnover along the glaciality gradient within each basin.

Results  For most approaches at both organizational levels, beta was greatest among high-glaciality reaches, absolute values of variation of beta in high-glaciality streams were strikingly similar between levels, and the steepest turnover within basins occurred between high- and mid-glaciality reaches. Therefore, high-glaciality reaches contained assemblages and populations that were unique both within that stream type (among basins) and compared with other stream types within basins.

Main conclusions  Parallel beta diversity patterns at population-genetic and community levels suggested that environmental drivers influence these levels analogously. Extreme conditions (e.g. low temperature, high instability, isolation) in high-glaciality streams probably enhance beta at both levels. Stream beta diversity is likely to decrease substantially with continued glacial reduction in this system.