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Keywords:

  • detritus;
  • feeding;
  • adaptation;
  • inland waters;
  • larval Diptera

Abstract

Detritus (dead organic matter), largely of terrestrial origin, is superabundant in inland waters but because of its indigestible nature, would appear to be a poor food source for animals. Yet this unpromising material is widely used as food and indeed can be viewed as a defining characteristic of the freshwater environment. We here explore the relationships among animals, detritus and its associated micro-organism decomposers, taking a functional approach. We pose questions about interrelationships and attempt to arrive at new insights by disentangling them from an adaptive point of view. To do this we have been careful in selecting the habitats for detailed consideration. Rain pools on rock surfaces in tropical Africa and pools on peat moorland in the UK were chosen. Both examples have a relatively simple community structure and hence offer the prospect of achieving our aim. As model organisms for study we focus principally on the aquatic stages of selected holometabolous insects; that is, selected genera of the universally common midges, Ceratopogonidae and Chironomidae. We approach these case studies from an evolutionary ecology perspective and see detritus as a simple template upon which a beautiful complex of adaptations can evolve.