, Volume 709, Issue 1, pp 11-25
Date: 15 Nov 2012

Importance of geochemical factors in determining distribution patterns of aquatic invertebrates in mountain streams south of the Atacama Desert, Chile

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The ecology of macroinvertebrate communities in arid regions is still poorly understood. Here we examined how the community structure varied at spatial and temporal scales in streams and tributaries of the Huasco River in semi-arid region of Northern Chile. We expected that macroinvertebrate distribution may be responding to natural processes of mineralization described for Chilean semiarid basins. The relationships among biotic and abiotic variables were assessed through multivariate techniques (principal component analysis, non-metric multidimensional scaling, canonical correspondence analysis), and a two-way analysis of similarity was used to evaluate differences between basins and years (2007, 2008, and 2009). Significant differences in community structure and physical–chemical variables between basins (Del Carmen and Del Tránsito) were found, but not between years. Altitude, Mn, Al, Ca, Na, HCO3, and dissolved oxygen were the variables that best accounted for the communities distribution. In particular, high metals concentration in El Transito basin should determine low density and diversity of macroinvertebrates. Chironomidae, Ephydridae, and Glossiphoniidae were associated to waters with high metals content and acidic pH, whereas Baetidae, Hydroptilidae, and Blephariceridae were associated to sites with more favorable physical–chemical conditions. These results contribute to understand the ecological patterns of macroinvertebrates in arid regions and should lead to conservation and monitoring plans for this remote place.

Handling editor: Koen Martens