Community convergence across biogeographically distinct regions suggests the existence of key, repeated, evolutionary mechanisms relating community characteristics to the environment. However, convergence studies at the community level often involve only qualitative comparisons of the environment and may fail to identify which environmental variables drive community structure. We tested the hypothesis that the biological traits of fish communities on two continents (Europe and North America) are similarly related to environmental conditions. Specifically, from observations of individual fish made at the microhabitat scale (a few square meters) within French streams, we generated habitat preference models linking traits of fish species to local scale hydraulic conditions (Froude number), Using this information, we then predicted how hydraulics and geomorphology at the larger scale of stream reaches (several pool-riffle sequences) should quantitatively influence the trait composition of fish communities. Trait composition for fishes in stream reaches with low Froude number at low flow or high proportion of pools was predicted as nonbenthic, large, fecund, long-lived, nonstreamlined, and weak swimmers. We tested our predictions in contrasting stream reaches in France (n = 11) and Virginia, USA (n = 76), using analyses of covariance to quantify the relative influence of continent vs. physical habitat variables on fish traits. The reach-scale convergence analysis indicated that trait proportions in the communities differed between continents (up to 55% of the variance in each trait was explained by "continent"), partly due to distinct evolutionary histories. However, within continents, trait proportions were comparably related to the hydraulic and geomorphic variables (up to 54% of the variance within continents explained). In particular, a synthetic measure of fish traits in reaches was well explained (50% of its variance) by the Froude number independently of the continent. The effect of physical variables did not differ across continents for most traits, confirming our predictions qualitatively and quantitatively. Therefore, despite phylogenetic and historical differences between continents, fish communities of France and Virginia exhibit convergence in biological traits related to hydraulics and geomorphology. This convergence reflects morphological and behavioral adaptations to physical stress in streams. This study supports the existence of a habitat template for ecological strategies. Some key quantitative variables that define this habitat template can be identified by characterizing how individual organisms use their physical environment, and by using dimensionless physical variables that reveal common energetic properties in different systems. Overall, quantitative tests of community convergence are efficient tools to demonstrate that some community traits are predictable from environmental features.
Additional publication details
Intercontinental convergence of stream fish community traits along geomorphic and hydraulic gradients