Aquatic Sciences

, 81:42 | Cite as

Macroinvertebrate diversity and rarity in non-glacial Alpine streams

  • R. Alther
  • C. Thompson
  • B. Lods-Crozet
  • C. T. RobinsonEmail author
Research Article


Alpine landscapes are being transformed through the rapid recession of glaciers, resulting in the development of numerous non-glacial headwater streams inhabited by a diverse assemblage of macroinvertebrates. We examined spatial patterns in biodiversity and rarity of macroinvertebrates in 41 non-glacial streams from five glacierized catchments in the Swiss Alps undergoing rapid glacial recession over the last decades. Water physico-chemistry and food resources (periphyton, benthic organic matter) varied widely among streams within each catchment, while no significant differences occurred among catchments. Variability in community composition was similar among streams within each catchment but differed among catchments, reflecting differences in catchment-scale species pools due to biogeographical context and season. Overall, 101 taxa from ca 33,000 individuals collected were identified in the streams with 7–33 taxa found in individual streams. Some 64% of the taxa comprised less than 5% of the total abundances at the streams (rare in abundance) with 78% of the taxa being represented by less than 5% of the most common taxon (Baetis sp.), whereas 47% of the taxa were found in less than 10% of the streams (rare in distribution). No taxon was found at all sites (maximum presence at 85% of the sites), while 15% of the taxa were found at 50% of the sites or more. However, analyzing the rank-abundance distribution showed that rarity was less prevalent than previously shown in other ecosystems. The results indicated that community assembly of alpine headwater streams is a complex interaction between environmental properties (habitat filtering), habitat stability coupled with dispersal (source sink dynamics), and time since deglaciation (island biogeography). Integrating these processes is essential towards understanding ongoing colonization events in headwater streams of alpine catchments as glaciers continue to recede.


Aquatic macroinvertebrates Dispersal Stream headwaters Species abundance distribution Community ecology Rarity 



We thank the Aua lab at Eawag for chemical analysis of water samples. We thank C. Jolidon, M. Leys, L. Sgier and D. Tanno for field assistance. We thank two anonymous reviewers for their extensive feedback and helpful comments that strengthened the analysis and improved the manuscript. The study was funded through a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF# 135523).

Supplementary material

27_2019_642_MOESM1_ESM.docx (319 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 318 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. Alther
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
  • C. Thompson
    • 3
  • B. Lods-Crozet
    • 5
  • C. T. Robinson
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Aquatic Ecology, EawagSwiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and TechnologyDübendorfSwitzerland
  2. 2.The Institute of Integrative Biology, ETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  3. 3.Department of Environmental SciencesWestern Wyoming Community CollegeRock SpringsUSA
  4. 4.Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental StudiesUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  5. 5.Musée Cantonal de ZoologieLausanneSwitzerland

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