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Time spent in the drift by downstream-dispersing invertebrates in a Lake District stream


J. M. Elliott, Freshwater Biological Association, Far Sawrey, Ambleside, Cumbria LA22 0LP, U.K. E-mail:


1. The objective was to determine the time spent in the drift by different taxa of stream invertebrates. Most data were obtained from an earlier experimental study to determine the distances travelled by drifting invertebrates of 16 taxa in Wilfin Beck. Experiments were performed at two sites: ‘site 4’ in a stony, fast-flowing, section of stream, ‘site 3’ in a deeper stream section where macrophytes were abundant.

2. The significant relationship between the mean distance x (m) travelled in the drift and modal water velocity V (m s−1) was described by a power function in the earlier study but, as the power was close to one, a linear relationship has now been found to provide a satisfactory model. The rate of increase in x (m) with increasing V varied considerably between taxa. The mean time [mean t (s)] spent in the drift was estimated by dividing each x (m) by the appropriate V. Mean t (s) for each taxon was usually very constant over a wide range of V at each site (0.10–0.60 m s−1 at site 4, 0.15–0.53 m s−1 at site 3). A simple model estimated the time spent in the drift by different percentages (e.g. 75, 50, 10 and 1%) of the drifting invertebrates.

3. The experimental taxa at site 4 were divided into three groups according to the mean time spent in the drift. Mean t (s) for the five taxa in group 1 (32.8 s) was not significantly different from that obtained in control experiments with a mixed group of dead invertebrates. A similar time (33.0 s) was obtained for the five taxa in group 2, except at water velocities less than 0.2 m s−1 when the mean t (s) decreased to 15–21 s. Mean t (s) was constant for each of the six taxa in group 3, and significantly less than that for groups 1 and 2. Mean values ranged from 28.8 s for Ephemerella ignita to only 9.4 s for Baetis rhodani and Gammarus pulex. All mean values were lower at site 3, presumably because of the dense stands of macrophytes, with mean values of 12.9 s for the five taxa in group 1 (equalling the value for dead invertebrates). Mean values for the six remaining taxa varied from 6.4 s for Simulium spp. to only 4.9 s for Baetis rhodani and 4.8 s for Gammarus pulex. It was concluded from a discussion of this study that the time spent in the drift may provide a useful measure for comparing the downstream dispersal of invertebrates in different streams, and may be a useful addition to models for the drift feeding of salmonids.