Aquatic Sciences

, Volume 76, Issue 3, pp 375–392 | Cite as

Spatial relationships between land-use, habitat, water quality and lotic macroinvertebrates in two Swiss catchments

  • C. T. Robinson
  • N. Schuwirth
  • S. Baumgartner
  • C. Stamm
Research Article


We examined the influence of land-use, habitat, and water quality on the spatial distribution of aquatic macroinvertebrates in two human-dominated catchments in the Swiss Plateau (Gürbe, Mönchaltorfer Aa). Land-use in the Gürbe catchment was dominated by agriculture, whereas urban land-use was more common in the Mönchaltorfer Aa. Study sites in each catchment were characterized using measures of local habitat conditions, water quality parameters including water temperature, and organic matter resources. A strong longitudinal gradient in temperature, conductivity and nitrogen was evident among sites in the Gürbe catchment, although sites on a main tributary had a strong agricultural signature and deviated from this pattern. Percentage agricultural land-use in the Gürbe was strongly correlated with algal biomass and the water quality PCA axes associated with conductivity, nitrogen (axis-1) and temperature (axis-3). Spatial grouping of sites by water quality was less evident in the Mönchaltorfer Aa, except for a strong signal by wastewater treatment plant effluents and partial differences between upper and lower basin sites. Percentage forest and agricultural land-use in the Mönchaltorfer Aa were correlated with water quality PCA axis-2, being associated with phosphorus and temperature. Macroinvertebrate densities, taxonomic richness, and axis-1 from a non-metric multidimensional scaling analysis (NMDS) of taxonomic composition were significantly correlated with water quality PCA axis-1 in the Gürbe catchment. Here, macroinvertebrate densities and NMDS axis-1 scores based on taxon relative abundances and densities were correlated with land-use features. Spatial distances between sites also were related to site differences in macroinvertebrates, reflecting the strong longitudinal environmental gradient in the Gürbe. Taxonomic differences between water quality PCA site groups were less pronounced in the Mönchaltorfer Aa, although differences were significant for trichopterans, ephemeropterans, chironomids, gastropods and coleopterans. Here, NMDS axis-1 based on taxon relative abundances and densities was correlated with forest land-use. Spatial distances between sites were not evident in macroinvertebrate site differences, reflecting the less pronounced spatial and longitudinal patterns in environmental attributes in this catchment. Our results support the hypothesis that spatial distributions of macroinvertebrates are related to spatial relationships among environmental attributes like land-use, habitat, and water quality in human-dominated catchments that depend on river network complexity, a habitat-filtering template in line with ecological niche theory.


Urban stream Aquatic insects Physico-chemical Nutrients Micropollutants 



The authors graciously thank C. Jolidon, A. Lück, M. Scheurer and N. Ghielmetti for assistance in the field and laboratory processing of samples. We thank the Aua Lab of Eawag for completing the water chemistry analyses. A. Lück and H. Singer carried out the analyses of the organic micropollutants, D. Kistler analysed the heavy metal measurements and M. Zennegg the PCBs. E. Vermeirssen and N. Odzak provided valuable support for the passive sampling. We thank R. Siber for GIS support and map illustrations. We thank two anonymous reviewers that provided helpful comments that improved the paper presentation. The project was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (No. 4061-40_125866/1).

Supplementary material

27_2014_341_MOESM1_ESM.doc (1.2 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 1277 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Basel 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. T. Robinson
    • 1
    • 2
  • N. Schuwirth
    • 3
  • S. Baumgartner
    • 1
    • 2
  • C. Stamm
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Aquatic EcologyEawagDuebendorfSwitzerland
  2. 2.Institute of Integrative BiologyETH-ZürichZurichSwitzerland
  3. 3.Department of Systems Analysis and ModelingEawagDuebendorfSwitzerland
  4. 4.Department of Environmental ChemistryEawagDuebendorfSwitzerland

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