Fine sediment reduces vertical migrations of Gammarus pulex (Crustacea: Amphipoda) in response to surface water loss

Surface and subsurface sediments in river ecosystems are recognized as refuges that may promote invertebrate survival during disturbances such as floods and streambed drying. Refuge use is spatiotemporally variable, with environmental factors including substrate composition, in particular the proportion of fine sediment (FS), affecting the ability of organisms to move through interstitial spaces. We conducted a laboratory experiment to examine the effects of FS on the movement of Gammarus pulex Linnaeus (Crustacea: Amphipoda) into subsurface sediments in response to surface water loss. We hypothesized that increasing volumes of FS would impede and ultimately prevent individuals from migrating into the sediments. To test this hypothesis, the proportion of FS (1–2 mm diameter) present within an open gravel matrix (4–16 mm diameter) was varied from 10 to 20% by volume in 2.5% increments. Under control conditions (0% FS), 93% of individuals moved into subsurface sediments as the water level was reduced. The proportion of individuals moving into the subsurface decreased to 74% at 10% FS, and at 20% FS no individuals entered the sediments, supporting our hypothesis. These results demonstrate the importance of reducing FS inputs into river ecosystems and restoring FS-clogged riverbeds, to promote refuge use during increasingly common instream disturbances.