Community Ecology of Stream Fishes: Concepts, Approaches, and Techniques

From Metapopulations to Metacommunities: Linking Theory with Empirical Observations of the Spatial Population Dynamics of Stream Fishes

Jeffrey A. Falke and Kurt D. Fausch


Abstract.—Stream fishes carry out their life histories across broad spatial and temporal scales, leading to spatially structured populations. Therefore, incorporating metapopulation dynamics into models of stream fish populations may improve our ability to understand mechanisms regulating them. First, we reviewed empirical research on metapopulation dynamics in the stream fish ecology literature and found 31 papers that used the metapopulation framework. The majority of papers applied no specific metapopulation model, or included space only implicitly. Although parameterization of spatially realistic models is challenging, we suggest that stream fish ecologists should incorporate space into models and recognize that metapopulation types may change across scales. Second, we considered metacommunity theory, which addresses how trade-offs among dispersal, environmental heterogeneity, and biotic interactions structure communities across spatial scales. There are no explicit tests of metacommunity theory using stream fishes to date, so we used data from our research in a Great Plains stream to test the utility of these paradigms. We found that this plains fish metacommunity was structured mainly by spatial factors related to dispersal opportunity and, to a lesser extent, by environmental heterogeneity. Currently, metacommunity models are more heuristic than predictive. Therefore, we propose that future stream fish metacommunity research should focus on developing testable hypotheses that incorporate stream fish life history attributes, and seasonal environmental variability, across spatial scales. This emerging body of research is likely to be valuable not only for basic stream fish ecological research, but also multispecies conservation and management.