The hierarchical structure of natural systems can be useful in designing ecological studies that are informative at multiple spatial scales. Although stream systems have long been recognized as having a hierarchical spatial structure, there is a need for more empirical research that exploits this structure to generate an understanding of population biology, community ecology, and species-ecosystem linkages across spatial scales. We review studies that link pattern and process across multiple scales of stream-habitat organization, highlighting the insight derived from this multiscale approach and the role that mechanistic hypotheses play in its successful application. We also describe afrontier in stream research that relies on this multiscale approach: assessing the consequences and mechanisms of ecological processes occurring at the network scale. Broader use of this approach will advance many goals in applied stream ecology, including the design of reserves to protect stream biodiversity and the conservation of freshwater resources and services.
© 2006, American Institute of Biological Sciences. View original published article at 10.1641/0006-3568(2006)56[591:LSISE]2.0.CO;2.