Ecosystem engineering at the streambed: how net-spinning caddisflies influence substrate flow dynamics

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


The streambed is an ecotone between surface waters and underlying hyporheic systems. Identifying the controls on advective flow through this ecotone is critical to understanding the movement of energy and matter in streams. Hydropsychids (net-spinning caddisflies) are aquatic macroinvertebrate ecosystem engineers that influence streambed cohesion, yet evidence of direct influence on hydrologic processes is lacking. Utilizing a novel downward flow permeameter, we demonstrate how net-spinning caddisfly colonization of the streambed interstitia at moderate but common densities (2,000 m^-2) can reduce the vertical hydraulic conductivity (KV) by up to 55% in coarse sand and gravels (median diameter = 12.91 mm). Sediment columns incubated in artificial stream water occupied by caddisflies showed greater reductions in KV relative to those without caddisflies. Additionally, organic matter content within sediment columns showed that occupation by caddisflies resulted in nearly two-fold increases in organic matter AFDM. Our research shows that the ubiquitous and numerous net-spinning caddisflies are likely to modulate the exchange of channel and hyporheic water by constructing nets in open pore spaces, increasing flow resistance, and decreasing flow velocities, as well as stimulating organic matter deposition with potential consequences for biofilm growth. These results suggest that caddisfly induced reductions to flow may influence transfer processes occurring at the streambed ecotone, altering biogeochemical processes in streams.




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