- Local aquatic insect diversity and community structure is the result of multiple local and regional factors, and observed patterns depend upon the spatial and temporal scale under examination. Isolated stream systems in arid regions represent a new challenge in understanding the drivers of diversity and community structure, as most studies addressing these issues are from well-connected temperate streams. During 2004 and 2005, I quantified aquatic insect diversity and community structure at 25 small, insular streams in the Madrean Sky Islands (MSI) of the southwest US and northwest Mexico. Over 60 families of aquatic insects were identified, with over 150 species of Coleoptera and Hemiptera identified in the regional species pool. I used these data to test several hypotheses: (1) diversity and community structure are correlated with habitat size, isolation, and habitat characteristics, (2) community structure is more correlated with distance between streams than with drainage basin, and (3) seasonal abiotic variation alters community structure. Habitat area explained a significant amount of variation in local species richness (45%). Using multiple linear regression, temperature and elevation were selected as additional explanatory factors, yielding a model that explained 61% of the variation in species richness. Non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMS) analyses identified two major gradients in community structure across the MSI, one associated with temperature, elevation and latitude, and the other associated with substrate composition (% silt and bedrock). Isolation from large river systems was not an important factor in diversity or community structure, and habitat area was not associated with community structure. Communities grouped by drainage basin did not form homogenous groups, as is seen in other aquatic taxa (e.g. fish). Community distance was, however, strongly associated with geographic distance, even after accounting for environmental
variation. This indicates a strong spatial autocorrelation in MSI insect communities, and suggests that many species easily disperse across drainage divides. MSI streams are characterized by strong seasonal variation in the form of increased flow and habitat amount (2+ orders of magnitude) and decreased temperature, pH, and conductivity during the brief high flow season. This seasonal abiotic shift allows the 'time-sharing' of MSI streams by disparate aquatic insect communites (nearctic and neotropical), and increases overall site diversity. I hypothesize that high elevation headwaters, egg and larval diapause, and the hyporheos may serve as refuges for high flow-dependent species during the rest of the year. MSI streams are remarkably diverse given their small sizes, and the results of this study suggest that this diversity is supported through spatial and temporal variation in habitat size and local abiotic characteristics.