Effects of larval size and hydrodynamics on the growth rates of the black fly Simulium tribulatum



Black flies are ubiquitous and important members of lotic ecosystems. Size is known to affect many aspects of their life in the aquatic larval stage, including intraspecific competition for feeding sites. As filter feeders, flow affects their ability to feed and reach sufficiently fast flow. This, in turn, can lead to risky fluid-mediated dispersal behavior in search of better conditions. It is surprising, therefore, that little information is available regarding how physiological and environmental factors combine to affect larval growth rates. The present study determines the relative growth rates of small (0.6 mm) and large (approximately 4 mm) larvae in laboratory flumes designed to produce spatially homogeneous and temporally consistent flow regimes at ecologically relevant velocities (44 and 64 cm/s). Our results indicate that size and flow both influence growth rates and that the 2 interact significantly. Young larvae exhibit faster growth rates and a greater positive response to increased flow speed. This result might help explain why smaller larvae have a greater propensity to disperse than larger larvae: the benefit of increased growth rate that they receive from relocating to faster flow might balance the risks inherent in dispersal.