Reservoirs have traditionally been regarded as spatially independent entities rather than as longitudinal segments of a river system that are connected upstream and downstream to the river and other reservoirs. This view has frustrated advancement in reservoir science by impeding adequate organization of available information and by hindering interchanges with allied disciplines that often consider impounded rivers at the basin scale. We analyzed reservoir morphology, water quality, and fish assemblage data collected in 24 reservoirs of the Tennessee River; we wanted to describe longitudinal changes occurring at the scale of the entire reservoir series (i.e., cascade) and to test the hypothesis that fish communities and environmental factors display predictable gradients like those recognized for unimpounded rivers. We used a data set collected over a 7-year period; over 3 million fish representing 94 species were included in the data set. Characteristics such as reservoir mean depth, relative size of the limnetic zone, water retention time, oxygen stratification, thermal stratification, substrate size, and water level fluctuations increased in upstream reservoirs. Conversely, reservoir area, extent of riverine and littoral zones, access to floodplains and associated wetlands, habitat diversity, and nutrient and sediment inputs increased in downstream reservoirs. Upstream reservoirs included few, largely lacustrine, ubiquitous fish taxa that were characteristic of the lentic upper reaches of the basin. Fish species richness increased in a downstream direction from 12 to 67 species/ reservoir as riverine species became more common. Considering impoundments at a basin scale by viewing them as sections in a river or links in a chain may generate insight that is not always available when the impoundments are viewed as isolated entities. Basin-scale variables are rarely controllable but constrain the expression of processes at smaller scales and can facilitate the organization of reservoir management efforts. ?? Copyright by the American Fisheries Society 2008.