We assessed and compared abiotic preferences of aquatic macroinvertebrates in three river basins located in Ecuador, Ethiopia and Vietnam. Upon using logistic regression models we analyzed the relationship between the probability of occurrence of five macroinvertebrate families, ranging from pollution tolerant to pollution sensitive, (Chironomidae, Baetidae, Hydroptilidae, Libellulidae and Leptophlebiidae) and physical-chemical water quality conditions. Within the investigated physical-chemical ranges, nine out of twenty-five interaction effects were significant. Our analyses suggested river basin dependent associations between the macroinvertebrate families and the corresponding physical-chemical conditions. It was found that pollution tolerant families showed no clear abiotic preference and occurred at most sampling locations, i.e. Chironomidae were present in 91%, 84% and 93% of the samples taken in Ecuador, Ethiopia and Vietnam. Pollution sensitive families were strongly associated with dissolved oxygen and stream velocity, e.g. Leptophlebiidae were only present in 48%, 2% and 18% of the samples in Ecuador, Ethiopia and Vietnam. Despite some limitations in the study design, we concluded that associations between macroinvertebrates and abiotic conditions can be river basin-specific and hence are not automatically transferable across river basins in the tropics.