Aquatic macroinvertebrates stabilize gravel bed sediment: A test using silk net-spinning caddisflies in semi-natural river channels


Organisms can have large effects on the physical properties of the habitats where they live. For example, measurements in laboratory stream microcosms have shown that the presence of silk net-spinning insect larvae (Trichoptera: Hydropsychidae) can increase the shear force required to initiate movement of riverbed sediments. Few studies, however, have moved beyond laboratory settings to quantify the engineering impacts of aquatic insects under more complex field conditions. To bridge the gap between small-scale laboratory experiments and natural stream ecosystems, we conducted experiments in large (50 m2) outdoor river channels where net-spinning aquatic insects were manipulated in sediment patches that were 5 to 25 times larger than in previous studies. We tested whether larvae of two caddisfly species (Arctopsyche californica and Ceratopsyche oslari) influenced the stability of gravel during simulated floods when alone in monoculture and together in polyculture. On average, populations of caddisflies increased the critical shear stress required to initiate sediment movement by 20% compared to treatments without caddisflies. Per capita effects of caddisflies on sediment stability were similar between previous laboratory studies and this field experiment, and Arctopsyche had a larger per capita effect than Ceratopsyche, perhaps because of its larger size and stronger silk. Contrary to prior laboratory flume results, the effects of the two species on critical shear stress when together were similar to the additive expectation of both species when alone, but effects of the two species together were higher than the additive expectation when we accounted for density. Comparisons of total population and per capita effects suggest that caddisfly density, identity, and coexisting species likely have effects on the magnitude of caddisfly impacts on critical shear stress. Our findings imply that consideration of both the abundances and traits of ecosystem engineers is needed to describe and model their effects on sediment mobility.




Albertson, Lindsey K., Leonard S. Sklar, Scott D. Cooper, and Bradley J. Cardinale. “Aquatic Macroinvertebrates Stabilize Gravel Bed Sediment: A Test Using Silk Net-Spinning Caddisflies in Semi-Natural River Channels.” Edited by Clara Mendoza-Lera. PLOS ONE 14, no. 1 (January 2, 2019): e0209087. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0209087.
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