Human settlements in headwater catchments are associated with generalist stream food webs

Ziqi CHEN*, David DUDGEON, Jia Huan LIEW

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


While a variety of anthropogenic impacts on lotic biodiversity have been documented, food-web responses to catchment development are poorly understood. We selected 27 stream food webs of comparable quality and conducted an analysis to assess the effect of catchment development on food-web structure. We quantified population densities, built-up area, and proximity to urban centres, and calculated a Settlement Index for each catchment using Principal Components Analysis. We also calculated the percentage of agricultural land cover in each catchment. Next, we assessed the correlations between the structural properties of food-webs (species richness, connectance, mean food-chain length, linkage density, trophic generality, and trophic vulnerability) and the Settlement Index as well as agricultural land cover. We found that linkage density, trophic vulnerability (number of consumers per species), and trophic generality (number of resources per species) were higher in streams with greater Settlement Index, indicating a reduction in specialisation. However, no clear trends were observed for species richness, connectance, and mean food-chain length. Agricultural land cover was also not related to food-web structure. We propose that the reduction in specialisation may be driven by species turnover and feeding plasticity, as biotic invasion or species impoverishment was not evident.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4017-4027
Number of pages11
Issue number17
Early online date24 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Prof. Luis Mauricio Bini, Dr. Francis J. Burdon and one anonymous reviewer for constructive comments and suggestions that helped improve this paper. We gratefully acknowledge the producers of the University of Canberra’s GlobalWeb database and the authors of publications included in this paper who shared their data, either in the original publication, through third-party access, or upon request. We thank Dr. Alyssa Cirtwill for the advice given in the early stages of the study. Ziqi Chen is grateful for the support by the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG.


  • Complexity
  • Feeding plasticity
  • Food-chain length
  • Specialisation
  • Species turnover
  • Trophic network


Dive into the research topics of 'Human settlements in headwater catchments are associated with generalist stream food webs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this