Community ecology - Original research


, Volume 170, Issue 4, pp 1111-1122

First online:

Fluxes of terrestrial and aquatic carbon by emergent mosquitoes: a test of controls and implications for cross-ecosystem linkages

  • Johanna M. KrausAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Trani Center for Life Sciences, Virginia Commonwealth UniversityFort Collins Science Center, US Geological Survey Email author 
  • , James R. VoneshAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Trani Center for Life Sciences, Virginia Commonwealth University

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Adult aquatic insects are a common resource for many terrestrial predators, often considered to subsidize terrestrial food webs. However, larval aquatic insects themselves consume both aquatic primary producers and allochthonous terrestrial detritus, suggesting that adults could provide aquatic subsidy and/or recycled terrestrial energy to terrestrial consumers. Understanding the source of carbon (aquatic vs. terrestrial) driving aquatic insect emergence is important for predicting magnitude of emergence and effects on recipient food web dynamics; yet direct experimental tests of factors determining source are lacking. Here, we use Culex mosquitoes in experimental pools as an exemplar to test how variation in general factors common to aquatic systems (terrestrial plant inputs and light) may alter the source and amount of energy exported to terrestrial ecosystems in adult aquatic insects that rely on terrestrial resources as larvae. We found strong sequential effects of terrestrial plant inputs and light on aquatic insect oviposition, diet, and emergence of Culex mosquitoes. Ovipositing mosquitoes laid ~3 times more egg masses in high terrestrial input pools under low light conditions. This behavior increased adult emergence from pools under low light conditions; however, high input pools (which had the highest mosquito densities) showed low emergence rates due to density-dependent mortality. Mosquito diets consisted mainly of terrestrial resources (~70–90 %). As a result, the amount of aquatic carbon exported from pools by mosquitoes during the experiment was ~18 times higher from low versus high light pools, while exports of terrestrial carbon peaked from pools receiving intermediate levels of inputs (3–6 times higher) and low light (~6 times higher). Our results suggest that understanding the interplay among terrestrial plant inputs, light availability and biotic responses of aquatic insects may be key in predicting source and magnitude of emergence, and thus the strength and effects of aquatic–terrestrial linkages in freshwater systems.


Allochthonous input Aquatic–terrestrial linkages Culex restuans Food web Habitat selection Resource subsidies Stable isotopes