Original paper

Analyzing the causes for the persistence of chironomids in floodplain lake sediments

de Haas, Elske M. van Haaren; Kraak, Michiel H.S. Admiraal


The aim of the present study was to analyse the causes for the absence and persistence of chironomids in sediments with a complex pollution history. Observations on the benthic community composition in floodplain lake sediments of the River Rhine, differing in contaminant level and food quality, were combined with laboratory and in situ bioassays, using the midge Chironomus riparius as a model species. The positive relation between food quality and the diversity of the communities indicated that food quality is an important factor regulating benthic community composition, overriding the potential effects of contaminants. Nevertheless, in sediments with high contaminant levels, high densities of species classified as 'pollution-tolerant', such as Chironomus sp., were observed. The laboratory bioassays verified that the contaminant concentrations in these sediments had no direct effect on survival and growth of C. riparius, although higher contaminant concentrations in the sediment resulted in a higher incidence of mentum deformities. Also, the high growth rate of C. riparius in the in situ enclosures in two of the most contaminated sediments indicated chemical stress and mentum deformities did not exclude rapid growth. This observation agrees with the abundance of the resident pollution-tolerant chironomids of the Chironomus plumosus group. In addition, the in situ bioassay pointed out that predation on chironomids added to the field enclosures was significant and is also an important factor in regulating the abundance of chironomids. In sediments with the highest food quality and low levels of contaminants the opportunistic chironomids may have been outcompeted by benthic invertebrate taxa that are not able to persist at more contaminated sites. It is concluded that tolerance of opportunistic chironomids, such as Chironomus sp., combined with their rapid rate of development, enables them to persist in contaminated sediments that are organically enriched avoiding competition with other invertebrates.


sedimentbenthic invertebratesabundancetaxa richnessdiversitymetalsfood qualitybioassayschironomus riparius