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Keywords:

  • allochthonous input;
  • aquatic–terrestrial linkages;
  • braided river;
  • insect emergence;
  • surface drift

Summary

1. Aquatic resource fluxes from streams can provide significant subsidies for riparian consumers. Because aquatic resource fluxes can be highly variable in space and time, the subsidy efficiency (i.e. transfer to the recipient food web) is controlled by the short-term aggregative response of riparian consumers.

2. Field manipulations of stream-derived invertebrate prey subsidies were used to examine specific aggregative responses of ground-dwelling arthropods to riverine subsidy pulses in a braided-river (Tagliamento River, NE Italy). Subsidy manipulation comprised short-term reductions of natural stream-derived subsidies and increased subsidies of stream-derived invertebrate prey during four seasons.

3. We hypothesised that specific aggregative responses of riparian arthropods depend on their specialisation on aquatic insects which was inferred from stable isotope analysis. Natural riverine subsidy sources including aquatic insect emergence and surface-drifting organisms were quantified.

4. Arthropods responded significantly with a reduction in abundance by 51%, at reduced subsidies and an increase by 110% at increased subsidies, when averaged over all seasons. Different arthropod taxa responded differently to subsidy manipulations in relation to their specialisation on aquatic subsidies: ground beetles with a diet consisting predominantly of aquatic insects responded only to subsidy reductions, indicating that their local abundance was not limited by natural stream-derived subsidies; lycosid spiders with a partly aquatic diet showed no significant response; and ants, although relying on a terrestrial diet, responded positively to added stream-derived invertebrate prey, indicating that stranding of surface-drifting terrestrial invertebrates represented an important subsidy pathway.

5. Ground beetles and lycosid spiders were seasonally separated in their use of aquatic subsidies. Results indicate that the life-history characteristics of riparian consumers can control the subsidy efficiency for the recipient community. By the effective uptake of pulsed riverine-derived subsidies, riparian arthropods can enhance the transfer of riverine food sources to the riparian food web.