SUMMARY 1. Larvae of the caddisfly Limnephilus externus grew faster than those of Nemotaulius hostilis in a permanent pond in southern Alberta.
2. We investigated whether this was due to more efficient food processing by L. externus, whether their growth coincided with high environmental temperatures, or whether they had the ability to choose and exploit higher quality food.
3. Of five foods used, protein content was highest in wheat flakes, similar in alder, bur-reed and willow leaves, and lowest in the moss Leptodictyum.
4. Both species grew faster and survived better on the wheat flakes, but there was no statistically significant difference between species on the same food when reared at 4 or 8°C in the laboratory.
5. At 16°C L. externusgrew better than N. hostilis when fed wheat, but N. hostilis survived better on alder. Both species had higher survival and growth rates per day-degree at 8 and 4 than at 16°C.
6. Thus, faster growth rates of L. externtus in the field appear to be due simply to higher temperatures during the larval growth period. Indeed, N. hostilis had a significantly higher growth rate per day-degree in a field experiment.
7. In food preference experiments, L. externus chose wheat first, moss second, alder third, and willow last; N. hostilis chose alder first, bur-reed second, moss third, and wheat last.
8. Protein content, leaf texture, microbial conditioning, and an interaction between larval behaviours selecting for food quality and case materials, are potential factors that influence‘food preference’results.