, Volume 549, Issue 1, pp 79-98

Respiration Rate of Stream Insects Measured in situ Along a Large Altitude Range

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Field studies of respiration in stream insects are few in comparison with laboratory studies. To evaluate the influence of temperature and oxygen along altitudinal gradients we measured the respiration rate of fully acclimatized larval Trichoptera, Plecoptera and Ephemeroptera under similar field conditions in streams from 400 to 3800 m above sea level in tropical Ecuador. Mean active respiration rates of the animals at 3800 m were approximately half of those at 400 m. Trichoptera showed a slightly larger difference in respiration with altitude than Ephemeroptera. Comparative respiration measurements at 100 and 50% oxygen saturation indicated that highland animals reduced their oxygen uptake more than their counterparts in the lowland when oxygen availability decreased. The temperature response of respiration calculated between the insect assemblages at different altitudes showed a mean assemblage Q 10−value of 1.50. Trichopteran larvae had a slightly stronger temperature response (Q 10 of 1.68) than ephemeropterans (Q 10 of 1.30). These community Q 10-values are considerably lower than the mean value of 2.36 found in single species in the laboratory. The weak community-wide response of respiration to temperature in tropical streams is probably due to full acclimatization of the component species to stable and narrow temperature ranges. Adaptations to the low oxygen availability at high altitude probably consist of a suite of genetic physiological and behavioural features.