Spatial and environmental patterns of rare lotic macroinvertebrate diversity : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Ecology at Massey University, Manawatū, Palmerston North, New Zealand

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Massey University
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Stream macroinvertebrate communities comprise a few common taxa and many rare ones. Small populations of rare taxa can be more vulnerable to environmental change than those of common taxa. However, they are often discarded from community analyses on the grounds that they complicate data interpretation. The aim of this thesis was to evaluate the effect of rare taxa on assessing ecosystem health and on interpreting biodiversity patterns based on lotic macroinvertebrate communities. I assessed the effect of multiple types of rare taxa exclusion on biomonitoring, using macroinvertebrate data collected for the National River Water Quality Network of Aotearoa New Zealand. I compared the effect of different sampling methods on biodiversity patterns of rare taxa in pristine streams in the Tongariro National Park and determined the local environmental variables most strongly linked with common and rare taxa. Finally, I evaluated the effect dispersal processes and local environment have on structuring the common and rare components of lotic communities, considering the position within the stream network and the dispersal mode of the invertebrates. Exclusion of rare taxa led to significant misclassifications of ecological quality by biomonitoring tools that use presence-absence data, such as the Macroinvertebrate Community Index, and often masked their relationship with nutrient stressors. Different sampling methods collected clearly differentiated rare components of lotic assemblages, depending on the habitat sampled (riffles, non-riffles) and the life-stage of the invertebrates (benthic larvae, flying adults). A comprehensive species inventory can be compiled by combining methods, with benthic samples as the basis. Biodiversity metrics of the common and rare components of macroinvertebrate communities were related to similar environmental variables. While the structure of the two components was related to different variables, in combination they revealed a greater number of relationships with the environment. Rare taxa assemblages were not structured clearly by either local environment or dispersal processes, however their inclusion was necessary to demonstrate that the complete communities were determined by the local environment. Overall, I did not find any reason to exclude rare taxa from lotic macroinvertebrate studies, but rather found they can facilitate community analyses. Given the increasing threats on lotic macroinvertebrate biodiversity, it is also crucial to include them in such studies, hopefully so we can prevent their complete extinction.
Environmental monitoring, Invertebrate communities, Rare invertebrates, Stream invertebrates, New Zealand, Tongariro National Park