Reach and catchment scale influences on invertebrate assemblages in a river with naturally high fine sediment loads

Cristina Buendia, Christopher N. Gibbins, Damia Vericat, Ramon J. Batalla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Stream invertebrate distribution patterns reflect local sedimentary and hydraulic conditions, which in turn are influenced by a range of factors operating at larger scales. We assessed whether spatial variation in invertebrate assemblages across a meso-scale catchment is best understood in terms of the characteristics of the study reaches themselves or the characteristics of respective upstream catchment areas. The study river experiences naturally high fine sediment loads as a result of the extraordinary supply of sediment from high erodible marls in its catchment. We hypothesized that between-reach variation in the volume of fine sediment stored within the channel results from a combination of reach and upstream catchment characteristics, and that these characteristics help explain variation in invertebrate assemblages. The storage of fine sediment in study reaches correlated with a number of upstream catchment characteristics, as well as reach-scale hydraulic conditions. Variability in invertebrate assemblages correlated most strongly (62% of variance explained) with the characteristics of the catchment upstream from each reach (area of contribution), with the characteristics of the reaches accounting for only 35% of the variability. The explanatory power of the reach-scale habitat variables was reduced when the effect of upstream catchment conditions was removed. This suggests inbuilt effects of larger scale conditions on reach habitat and invertebrate assemblages. Results lend support to theories of scale hierarchy within river systems and help emphasize the need to target management at upstream catchment areas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)362-370
Number of pages9
JournalLimnologica - Ecology and Management of Inland Waters
Issue number5
Early online date22 Jun 2013
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2013

Bibliographical note

The authors would like to thank to the members of the RIUS team (Fluvial Dynamics Research Group, University of Lleida ( for their valuable help during fieldwork. Also, they would like to thank the anonymous reviewers whose comments helped improve the manuscript. The third author has a Ramon y Cajal Fellowship (RYC-2010-06264) funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation. Special thanks are due to the Ebro Water Authorities and the GIS office of the Aragonian Government for their collaborative support during the investigation, provision of data and useful materials such aerial images. Part of this work has been carried out within the framework of the research project Consolider Ingenio 2010 CSD2009-00065 funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science.


  • scale interactions
  • Pyrenean river
  • sedimentation
  • hierarchical theory


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