Vertical reworking of sediment by the cased caddisfly Glossosomatidae (Agapetus fuscipes) increases sand exposure and availability in armoured gravel-bed rivers
Landscapes and ecosystems are the result of two-way interactions between hydro-geomorphic and biological processes. Many animals, particularly those that build structures or transport sediment, are important biogeomorphic agents. Glossosomatidae caddisfly larvae (Insecta, Trichoptera) are globally widespread and abundant inhabitants of gravel-bed rivers. Glossosomatidae build mobile cases from sand that they transport over the river bed. However, there is limited understanding on how Glossosomatidae bioconstructions may influence sand distribution in rivers or how their zoogeomorphic behaviours are influenced by hydraulics or characteristics of the river bed. First, we conducted surveys to quantify the magnitude of sand incorporated into Glossosomatidae (Agapetus fuscipes) cases within a UK river. Second, we studied A. fuscipes movement behaviour and quantified the direction and magnitude of sediment reworking, in a flume, under differing flow velocity and gravel size treatments. We found that 99 % of A. fuscipes larvae transported sediment vertically upwards. This resulted in an average conveyance per larvae of 0.06 g sand upwards by 25 mm (maximum of 50 mm). In gravel beds with a coarse surface layer, this resulted in displacement of sand from sheltered interstices onto the surface of exposed gravel particles. In the flume, this behaviour was maintained even at high flows, sufficient to entrain empty cases from these locations. Whilst the mass of sediment moved by individual larvae is small, dense populations of Glossosomatidae larvae may have important consequences for the vertical distribution of sand in rivers. At our field site, A. fuscipes case density averaged 2192 cases m−2, equivalent to 1.4 t km−1. This finding is important because in gravel-bed rivers frequented by Glossosomatidae larvae, sediment transport is typically limited by the availability of entrainable fine grain sediment at the surface. We discuss the implications of this sediment movement for river bed sedimentary structure, the transport of sand and gravel, and the possible role of Glossosomatidae larvae as ecosystem engineers.
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