Factors affecting decomposition rates of chironomid (Diptera) pupal exuviae

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Rathi G. Kavanaugh
Alexander T. Egan
Leonard C. Ferrington, Jr.


Collections of floating chironomid pupal exuviae are used to monitor water quality and assess ecological conditions. Factors controlling exuviae sinking rates are not well known, although they should have an effect on conclusions that can be drawn from collections. The current study was conducted to determine the rate of sinking under controlled laboratory conditions using water from three streams with different nutrient levels. Sinking rates ranged from less than a day to seven days, depending on microbial activity, nutrient concentrations, temperature and turbulence. Results also varied by genus, with pupal exuviae of Chironomus riparius, Diamesa nivoriunda, Orthocladius (Euorthocladius) thienemanni and Eukiefferiella sp. used in experiments. Four species of bacteria and eight genera of fungi colonized and metabolized exuviae, with bacteria dominant early and fungi dominant later in the decomposition process. Decomposition was faster in lightly chitinized abdominal conjunctive areas, which resulted in exuviae breaking apart and sinking. Examination of untreated, dewaxed and dewaxed-deproteinized exuviae indicated that untreated exuviae sank faster. Waxes appeared important for colonization and initial microbial metabolization was delayed when waxes were removed. Results confirm the importance of biological degradation of exuviae in determining floatation times. We predict that streams and other waterbodies with high dissolved nutrients will result in rapidly sinking exuviae, while exuviae in low nutrient waterbodies will float longer.

Article submitted 1. October 2014, accepted 18. November 2014, published 22. December 2014.


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Kavanaugh, R. G., Egan, A. T., & Ferrington, Jr., L. C. (2014). Factors affecting decomposition rates of chironomid (Diptera) pupal exuviae. CHIRONOMUS Journal of Chironomidae Research, (27). https://doi.org/10.5324/cjcr.v0i27.1700
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