Environmental controls on river assemblages at the regional scale: An application of the elements of metacommunity structure framework


Understanding factors that structure regional biodiversity is important for linking ecological and biogeographic processes. Our objective was to explore regional patterns in riverine benthic invertebrate assemblages in relation to their broad positioning along the river network and examine differences in composition, biodiversity (alpha and beta diversity), and environmental drivers. We up-scaled methods used to examine patterns in metacommunity structure (Elements of Metacommunity Structure framework) to examine faunal distribution patterns at the regional extent for 168 low-mountain stream invertebrate assemblages in central Germany. We then identified the most influential environmental factors using boosted regression trees. Faunal composition patterns were compartmentalised (Clementsian or quasi-Clementsian), with little difference from headwaters to large rivers, potentially reflecting the regional scale of the study, by crossing major catchment boundaries and incorporating different species pools. While idealised structures did not vary, environmental drivers of composition varied considerably between river sections and with alpha diversity. Prediction was substantially weaker, and the importance of space was greater, in large rivers compared to other sections suggesting a weakening in species sorting downstream. Further, there was a stronger transition in composition than for alpha diversity downstream. The stronger links with regional faunal composition than with richness further emphasises the importance of considering the alternative ways in which anthropogenic stressors are operating to affect biodiversity patterns. Our approach allowed bridging the gap between local (or metacommunity) and regional scales, providing key insights into drivers of regional biodiversity patterns.