Original paper

Effects of environment and an introduced invertebrate species on the structure of benthic macroinvertebrate species at the catchment level

Kelly, David W.; Dick, Jaimie T.A.


Biotic interactions such as predation and competition can influence aquatic communities at small spatial scales, but they are expected to be overridden by environmental factors at large scales. The continuing threat to freshwater biodiversity of biological invasions indicates that biotic factors do, however, have important structuring roles. In Irish rivers, the native amphipod Gammarus duebeni celticus has become locally extinct, ostensibly through differential predation by the more aggressive and introduced G. pulex. This mechanism explains impacts of G. pulex at within-river spatial scales on native macroinvertebrate community diversity, including declines in ephemeropterans, plecopterans, dipterans and oligochaetes. To determine if these patterns are predictable at larger spatial scales, we assessed patterns in native macroinvertebrate communities across river sites of the Erne catchment in 1998 and 1999, in conjunction with the distribution of G. pulex and G. d. celticus. In both years, G. pulex dominated invaded sites, whereas G. d. celticus occurred at low abundance in un-invaded sites. In both years, invaded sites had lower diversity and fewer pollution sensitive invertebrate species than un-invaded sites. Community ordination in 1998 showed that invaded sites had higher conductivity, smaller substrate particle size and comprised a lower proportion of pollution sensitive taxa including Ephemeroptera and Plecoptera. In contrast, in 1999, conductivity was the only variable explaining site ordination along axis 1, but was unable to separate sites with respect to invasion status. A second explanatory axis separated sites with respect to invasion status, with invaded sites having fewer taxa, including lower abundance of ephemeropterans, dipterans and plecopterans. Laboratory experiments examined the potential role of differential predation between the two Gammarus species in explaining these taxon specific patterns in the field. Survival of the ephemeropterans, Ephemerella ignita and Ecdyonurus venosus and the isopod, Asellus aquaticus, was lower when interacting with G. pulex than with G. d. celticus. This study indicates that G. pulex may alter invertebrate community structure at scales beyond those detected within individual rivers. However, effects may be influenced by gradients in physico-chemistry, which may be temporal or depend on catchment characteristics. Invasions by amphipods have increased globally, thus comprehensive assessments of their impacts and of other aquatic invaders, may only be apparent when studies are conducted at a range of spatio-temporal scales.


biodiversitybiotic interactionsgammarusinvasive speciesmacroinvertebrate community