Understanding the drivers of species richness gradients is a central challenge of ecological and biodiversity research in freshwater science. Species richness along elevational gradients reveals a great variety of patterns. Here, we investigate elevational changes in species richness and turnover between microhabitats in near-natural spring habitats across Switzerland. Species richness was determined for 175 subsamples from 71 near-natural springs, and Poisson regression was applied between species richness and environmental predictors. Compositional turnover was calculated between the different microhabitats within single springs using the Jaccard index based on observed species and the Chao index based on estimated species numbers. In total, 539 diatom species were identified. Species richness increased monotonically with elevation. Habitat diversity and elevation explaining some of the species richness per site. The Jaccard index for the measured compositional turnover showed a mean similarity of 70% between microhabitats within springs, whereas the Chao index which accounts for sampling artefacts estimated a turnover of only 37%. Thus, the commonly applied method of counting 500 valves led to an undersampling of the rare species and might need to be reconsidered when assessing diatom biodiversity.
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