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Chironomidae traits and life history strategies as indicators of anthropogenic disturbance

Serra, Sónia R.Q., Graça, Manuel A.S., Dolédec, Sylvain, Feio, Maria João
Environmental monitoring and assessment 2017 v.189 no.7 pp. 326
Chironomidae, Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, Trichoptera, animals, anthropogenic activities, diapause, environmental factors, freshwater ecosystems, hemoglobin, hibernation, lakes, multivoltine habit, rivers, secondary productivity, spring, streams, surface water, water quality
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.