The use of assemblages of caddisflies (Trichoptera) in paleoecology has been explored over the past ca. 12 years. During this time, sites in North America, Great Britain and Europe have been studied and progress has been made in both the mechanics of identification and in the understanding of factors relevant to the interpretation of assemblages of this wholly aquatic group. Quaternary caddisfly fossils are abundant and usually well-preserved in waterlaid sediments. Individual larval sclerites can be identified by reference to shapes, textures, colour patterns muscle scar patterns and setal distributions. The flat frontoclypeus is particularly easily identified.
Study of the biological and distributional data relevant to a caddisfly assemblage yields information at two levels. First the probable local habitat and second the climate can be described. This information is derived from both modern collections and the literature as the morphology of species, and hence it is assumed their environmental requirements, have not changed during the Quaternary. Comparisons with fossil assemblages of other plant and animal groups suggest that there are important factors to be considered in interpreting caddisfly assemblages, particularly those from sediments deposited during cold periods: for example, caddisflies may be slower to migrate than certain terrestrial insects, in particular the beetles (Coleoptera), and some glacial assemblages may therefore be dominated by ‘hangers on’. Lotic and lentic species also may migrate at different rates.
Although caddisflies have not yet been fully exploited as paleoecological indicators, they have already contributed to our understanding of past environments and warrant much greater use.