1. Variation in detritus quality and quantity can have significant effects on aquatic invertebrate food webs. Allochthonous inputs of detritus are the principal energy source for organisms in aquatic tree hole microsystems. We compared the effects of two major detritus types found in tree holes, senescent leaves (Sugar Maple and White Oak) and invertebrate carcasses (dead adult fruit flies and crickets), on several water quality characteristics of laboratory microcosms as well as on mass, survival and population performance of the dominant tree hole consumer, Ochlerotatus triseriatus (Diptera: Culicidae). To date, no study has documented the effects of animal detritus in tree hole microsystems or on resident consumers.
2. Aquatic environments receiving invertebrate carcasses had significantly greater total nitrogen, total reactive phosphorus and higher pH, than leaf-based environments. Decay rate of invertebrate carcasses was greater compared to leaf material. Consumption of O2 by micro-organisms increased with increasing detritus amounts, but we detected no difference between detritus types.
3. Ochlerotatus triseriatus larvae grew faster in animal-based treatments, and mean mass of larvae was significantly greater when more animal detritus was used. The effect of animal-based treatments on larvae translated into higher performance for adults, which were three times heavier than counterparts from plant-based containers. Survivorship and estimated population growth rates were significantly greater for O. triseriatus reared on animal-based versus plant-based detritus.
4. We hypothesise two mechanisms for the pronounced effect of invertebrate carcasses on mosquito performance relative to that associated with leaf detritus: (i) invertebrate carcasses decompose more quickly and release nutrients more effectively into the aquatic environment; or (ii) O. triseriatus larvae may directly ingest nutrient-rich components of invertebrate carcasses. Because even relatively small animal detritus additions can have strong effects on O. triseriatus populations, studies need to be conducted to explore the overall role of animal detritus in tree holes in nature.