The aim of this study was to investigate the distribution, density, community structure and biodiversity characteristics of benthic diatoms, and to analyze whether differences in species composition and abundance exist in different regions of the Niyang River, Tibet. Among the 157 taxa observed in 15 sampling sites in the main river and tributary, most were casual species (>100), the relative abundance of the genera Achnanthes and Fragilaria was 67% of the total relative abundance. Achnanthes minutissima was the most important species and dominated the whole river reaches (average relative abundance was 30%); the average diatom densities were 7.4 x 10(5) cell/cm(2) at all sites, and increased slowly from the upper section to downriver. The significant indicator taxa with higher relative abundance were Achnanthes biasolettiana (18.0%) and Fragilaria arcus (18.2%), Fragilaria capucina var. vaucheriae (31.2%), Fragilaria construens var. venter (11.3%) and Cymbella affinis (11.0%) in the upper, tributary and mid-river sections, respectively. Achnanthes minutissima was the most abundant species (56%) in the downriver section. Biodiversity indices showed a gradual decrease from the up-to down-river section, and dominant species were more abundant in the upper and mid-river sections than in the downriver section. A two-way indictor species analysis (TWINSPAN) of diatom composition clearly showed four different groups, namely the upper, mid, lower and tributary sections. Detrended correspondence analysis (DCA) supported the results of TWINSPAN, and the characteristics of site distribution and species composition in the Niyang River supported the spatial structure of diatom assemblages. This study indicates that bio-assessment programs utilizing benthic diatoms could clearly benefit lotic water with regional stratification.