Difference in benthic invertebrate communities of headwater streams can be detected using a short elevation gradient

Document Type: Original Article


1 Taxanama Corp., 25 Mabelle Ave., Toronto, ON, Canada

2 Environmental and Life Sciences-Biology Department, Trent University, 2140 East Bank Drive, Peterborough, ON, K9L 1Z8, Canada

3 Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

4 Environmental and Life Sciences-Chemistry Department, Trent University, 1600 West Bank Drive, Peterborough, ON, K9J 7B8, Canada


Communities of benthic invertebrates from a series of intermittent headwater streams spanning over a short elevation gradient (i.e., ~ 180–500 m) were investigated in April–July 2010 and May–July 2011. The main purpose of this study was to better understand whether the potential future effect of environmental change on biological communities of the Precambrian Shield’s freshwaters can be detected using elevation as a substitute for time. Since obtaining long-term environmental data is a time-consuming process, substituting space for time could instead generate similar information in a shorter time. In this study, environmental differences associated with short elevation gradient were correlated with differences in benthic invertebrate communities. Therefore, elevation gradient provides a spatial proxy for anticipated future environmental change impacts over time. It was determined that water temperature accounts for the greatest variation in communities along the elevation. Many community metrics such as abundance, functional feeding groups, diversity, and evenness were significantly different based on the difference in elevation. Result indicates that even a short elevation gradient can potentially be used as a surrogate to look at the effect of environmental change.