Relationships among biological elements (macrophytes, macroinvertebrates and ichthyofauna) for different core river types across Europe at two different spatial scales

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The objective of this study was to evaluate differences in correlations among Biological Elements and environmental parameters for different river types, analysed at two different spatial scales. A total of 82 sites, with at least good ecological status, were sampled across Europe, representing three core river types: Mountain rivers (26 sites); Lowland rivers (29 sites) and Mediterranean rivers (17 sites). At each site samples of macrophytes, macroinvertebrates and fishes were taken during spring, following the methodological procedures established by the European STAR project. Environmental parameters were also recorded, based on a site protocol developed by the European projects AQEM and STAR. Environmental parameters were divided into three categories: aquatic habitats (mesohabitat scale), global features (reach scale) and obligatory typology parameters of Water Framework Directive (WFD) (geographical scale). Data were analysed to evaluate at the two scales, first, relationships among biological elements, and second, relationships between biological elements and environmental parameters. Within each river type, correlation matrices (Bray-Curtis distance) were calculated separately for each biological element and for each category of environmental parameters. All biological elements were correlated (p<0.01) to the larger spatial scale: macrophytes and macroinvertebrates are more correlated in lowland and mountain rivers, while in Mediterranean rivers, fish and macrophytes presented higher correlations. These links tend to be consistent for different spatial scales, except if they are weak on a larger regional scale, obligatory parameters of WFD were, in most cases, significantly correlated with the three biological communities (p<0.05). Results at different spatial scales supported the hierarchical theory of river formation. Reach and mesohabitat environmental parameters tend to explain aquatic communities at a lower spatial scale, while geographical parameters tend to explain the communities at a major spatial scale.

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