The metacommunity perspective has substantially advanced our understanding of how local (within community) and dispersal (between community) processes influence the assembly of communities. The increased recognition of dispersal processes makes it necessary to re-evaluate former views on community organization in different ecological systems and for specific organisms. Stream systems have long been considered from a linear perspective, in which local community organization was examined along the longitudinal profile, from source to mouth. However, the hierarchically branching (i.e. dendritic) structure of stream networks also significantly affects both local and regional scale community organization, which has just only recently been fully recognized by ecologists. In this review, I examine how the shift from a strictly linear to a dendritic network perspective influenced the thinking about the organization of fish metacommunities in stream networks. I argue that while longitudinal patterns in the structure of fish communities are relatively well known, knowledge is still limited about how the structure of the stream network ultimately affects the spatial and temporal dynamics of metacommunities. I suggest that scaling metapopulation models up to the metacommunity level can be useful to further our understanding of the spatial structure of metacommunities. However, this requires the delineation of local communities and the quantification of the contribution of dispersal to local community dynamics. Exploring patterns in diversity, spatial distribution and temporal dynamics of metacommunities is not easily feasible in continuous stream habitats, where some parts of the habitat network are exceptionally hard to sample representatively. Combination of detailed field studies with modelling of dispersal is necessary for a better understanding of metacommunity dynamics in stream networks. Since most metacommunity level processes are likely to happen at the stream network level, further research on the effects of stream network structure is needed. Overall, separation of the effect of dispersal processes from local scale community dynamics may yield a more mechanistic understanding of the assembly of fish communities in stream networks, which may also enhance the effectiveness of restoration efforts.
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