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Oecologia. 2004 Aug;140(3):533-42. Epub 2004 Jun 4.

Local modification of benthic flow environments by suspension-feeding stream insects.

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  • 1Patrick Center for Environmental Research, Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA 19103, USA.


Larval black flies often exhibit spatially aggregated distributions, and individuals within patches can potentially reduce the supply of suspended food particles to downstream neighbors by modifying local flow characteristics. We used hot-film anemometry to quantify the magnitude and spatial extent of flow modifications downstream from feeding Simulium vittatum larvae in a laboratory flume, and to determine whether temporal patterns of flow variation are related to movements of the larval feeding appendages. Mean velocity 1 mm downstream from feeding larvae was reduced by 75%, and the percent reduction in velocity diminished asymptotically with downstream distance. Reduced velocities were evident as much as 60 mm downstream from, and 3 mm to either side of, larvae. Turbulence intensity (i.e., the SD of the velocity time series) was generally higher in this region relative to control flow conditions. Three results demonstrate the major contribution of the larval feeding appendages (i.e., labral fans) to such flow modification. First, there was a minimal reduction in mean velocity 5 mm downstream from non-feeding larvae (i.e., with closed labral fans), whereas mean velocity at the same location was reduced markedly when larvae were feeding. Second, the power spectrum of the velocity time series exhibited greatest power at frequencies that corresponded to the frequency of labral fan motions. Third, fan flick times accounted for most of the variance in the velocity power spectrum. The large local flow modifications that we documented have potentially important consequences for the feeding performance and growth of individuals located within larval aggregations, and are likely to influence behavioral interactions and spacing patterns.

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