Chironomidae traits and life history strategies as indicators of anthropogenic disturbance

  • Sónia R.Q. Serra
  • Manuel A.S. Graça
  • Sylvain Dolédec
  • Maria João Feio


In freshwater ecosystems, Chironomidae are currently considered indicators of poor water quality because the family is often abundant in degraded sites. However, it incorporates taxa with a large ecological and physiological diversity and different sensitivity to impairment. Yet, the usual identification of Chironomidae at coarse taxonomic levels (family or subfamily) masks genus and species sensitivities. In this study, we investigate the potential of taxonomic and functional (traits) composition of Chironomidae to detect anthropogenic disturbance. In this context, we tested some a priori hypotheses regarding the ability of Chironomidae taxonomic and trait compositions to discriminate Mediterranean streams affected by multiple stressors from least-disturbed streams. Both taxonomic and Eltonian trait composition discriminated sites according to their disturbance level. Disturbance resulted in the predicted increase of Chironomidae with higher number of stages with hibernation/diapause and of taxa with resistance forms and unpredicted increase of the proportion of taxa with longer life cycles and few generations per year. Life history strategies (LHS), corresponding to multivoltine Chironomidae that do not invest in hemoglobin and lack strong spring synchronization, were well adapted to all our Mediterranean sites with highly changeable environmental conditions. Medium-size animals favored in disturbed sites where the Mediterranean hydrological regime is altered, but the reduced number of larger-size/carnivore Chironomids suggests a limitation to secondary production. Results indicate that Chironomidae genus and respective traits could be a useful tool in the structural and functional assessment of Mediterranean streams. The ubiquitous nature of Chironomidae should be also especially relevant in the assessment of water bodies naturally poor in other groups such as the Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera, such as the lowland rivers with sandy substrates, lakes, or reservoirs.


Diptera Bioassessment Biological traits Life history strategies 



This work was made possible by the strategic project (UID/MAR/04292/2013) granted to MARE and the PhD scholarship (SFRH/BD/80188/2011) of first author both granted by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT); the co-tutelage between the University of Coimbra and the University of Lyon 1; and the cooperation between the MARE, University of Coimbra, Portugal, and the LEHNA–Laboratoire d’Ecologie des Hydrosystèmes Naturels et Anthropisés, University of Lyon, France. The identification was supported by Narcís Prat from the Research Group Freshwater Ecology and Management (F.E.M.), from the Department of Ecology of the University of Barcelona, Spain.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sónia R.Q. Serra
    • 1
  • Manuel A.S. Graça
    • 1
  • Sylvain Dolédec
    • 2
  • Maria João Feio
    • 1
  1. 1.MARE – Marine and Environmental Sciences Centre, Department of Life SciencesUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal
  2. 2.Biodiversité et Plasticité dans les HydrosystèmesUniversité Lyon 1, UMR 5023 LEHNAVilleurbanne CedexFrance

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