Aquatic Sciences

, Volume 79, Issue 2, pp 407–418 | Cite as

Changes in macroinvertebrate trophic structure along a land-use gradient within a lowland stream network

  • Simone D. Baumgartner
  • Christopher T. Robinson
Research Article


Running waters are among the most threatened ecosystems globally, having altered hydrological regimes, homogenized habitat, and impaired water quality. These multiple stressors impact aquatic biodiversity and ecosystem function across space and time, although a clear mechanistic understanding is still lacking. Here, we examined the trophic response of macroinvertebrates among streams in a Swiss lowland catchment encompassing a gradient of land uses. Clear compositional changes were observed as anthropogenic impacts increased from least-impacted to agricultural and urbanized sites. Taxonomic diversity was lowest at sites with morphological and water quality impairment (agricultural sites), whereas taxonomic identity (susceptible vs. generalist species) mainly changed due to water quality degradation (agricultural and urban sites) based on the SPEAR (pesticides) index. Using stable isotopes (δ13C, δ15N), a simplification in macroinvertebrate trophic structure was evident along the land use gradient. At a site receiving wastewater treatment effluent, stable isotopes also revealed trophic shifts in primary consumers that corresponded to changes in available food resources. Results further showed that some taxa losses, e.g., the mayfly Ecdyonurus, to land- use effects may be due to low trophic plasticity. The combination of analyses, including stable isotopes, provided an improved mechanistic understanding of community and population responses to land-use changes along river networks.


Trophic plasticity Stable isotopes SPEAR index Stress gradient Urban stream 



Funding was provided by the Swiss Federal Institute of Environment (FEON). We thank C. Schubert for providing the laboratory equipment for stable isotope analysis and G. Nobbe for his extensive help and shared insights on stable isotope sample preparation and analysis. We thank S. Blaser, C. Jolidon, S. Kaeser, K. Krähenbühl, and C. Baumgartner for assistance in the field, and the AUA chemical laboratory at Eawag for water chemistry analysis. We thank two highly constructive reviewers for comments that improved the manuscript.

Supplementary material

27_2016_506_MOESM1_ESM.docx (24 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 24 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simone D. Baumgartner
    • 1
    • 2
  • Christopher T. Robinson
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Aquatic EcologySwiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag)DübendorfSwitzerland
  2. 2.Institute of Integrative Biology, ETH ZürichZurichSwitzerland

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