Twenty-two high-elevation lakes (>3000 m) in Rocky Mountain National Park and Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado, were surveyed during summer 1998 to explore relationships among benthic invertebrates, water chemistry (particularly nitrate concentrations), and other environmental variables. Water samples were collected from the deepest portion of each lake and analyzed for ions and other water chemistry parameters. Benthic invertebrates were collected from the littoral zone using both a sweep net and Hess sampler. Physical and geographical measurements were derived from maps. Relationships among benthic invertebrate assemblages and environmental variables were examined using canonical correspondence analysis, and the importance of sampling methodology and taxonomic resolution on these relationships was evaluated.

Choice of sampling methodology strongly influenced the outcome of statistical analyses, whereas taxonomic resolution did not. Presence/absence of benthic invertebrate taxa among the study lakes was best explained by elevation and presence of fish. Relative abundance and density of benthic invertebrate taxa were more strongly influenced by sampling date and water chemistry. Nitrate (NO3-) concentration, potentially on the rise due to regional nitrogen deposition, was unrelated to benthic invertebrate distribution regardless of sampling method or taxonomic resolution.