, Volume 281, Issue 1, pp 1-17

First online:

Response of macroinvertebrates to blooms of iron-depositing bacteria

  • Todd A. WellnitzAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Middlebury College
  • , Kristianne A. GriefAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Middlebury College
  • , Sallie P. SheldonAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Middlebury College

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In field measurements and laboratory experiments we assessed the influence of high levels of iron, manganese, and concurrent blooms of iron-depositing bacteria, Leptothrix ochracea, on macroinvertebrates. Macroinvertebrate communities in five of six streams were depauerate inside blooms. Reasons for the decreased abundance vary among taxa, with our experiments demonstrating the importance, for one or more species, of (1) direct toxic effects, and,/or smothering, (2) behavioral avoidance of bacterial-coated substrates, and (3) an inability to use bacteria as food. Three mayfly species showed increased mortality when caged inside the blooms, but five trichopterans and one plecopteran did not. Five invertebrates avoided Leptothrix-coated substrate in choice trials, while three did not. Stenonema fuscum could not ingest Leptothrix, and Neophylax nacatus had reduced growth feeding on it, but Heptagenia umbratica grew equally well on diets of Leptothrix or diatoms. This study demonstrates the important role epilithic organisms play in modifying substrates, and how these changes may act to influence benthic abundance and distribution in streams.

Key words

iron-depositing bacteria streams macroinvertebrates epilithic substrates