The influence of larval density, food availability and habitat longevity on the life history and population growth rate of the midge Chironomus riparius
Hooper, H. L., Sibly, R. M., Hutchinson, T. H. and Maund, S. J. (2003) The influence of larval density, food availability and habitat longevity on the life history and population growth rate of the midge Chironomus riparius. Oikos, 102 (3). pp. 515-524. ISSN 0030-1299
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Despite long-standing interest in the forms and mechanisms of density dependence, these are still imperfectly understood. However, in a constant environment an increase in density must reduce per capita resource availability, which in turn leads to reduced survival, fecundity and somatic growth rate. Here we report two population experiments examining the density dependent responses under controlled conditions of an important indicator species, Chironomus riparius. The first experiment was run for 35 weeks and was started at low density with replicate populations being fed three different rations. Increased ration reduced generation time and increased population growth rate (pgr) but had no effect on survival, fecundity and female body weight in the first generation. In the second generation there was a six-fold increase in generation time, presumably due to the greatly reduced per capita resource availability as the estimated initial densities of the second generation were 300 times greater than the first. Juvenile survival to emergence, fecundity, adult body weight and pgr declined by 90%, 75%, 35% and 99%, respectively. These large between-generation effects may have obscured the effects of the threefold variation in ration, as only survival to emergence significantly increased with ration in the second generation. These results suggest that some chironomid larvae survive a reduction in resource availability by growing more slowly. In the ephemeral habitats sometimes occupied by C. riparius, the effects of population density may depend crucially on the longevity of the environment. A second experiment was therefore performed to measure pgr from six different starting densities over an eight-week period. The relationship between pgr and density was concave, viewed from above. At densities above 16 larvae per cm(2), less than 1% of the population emerged and no offspring were produced. Under the conditions of experiment 2 - an 8-week habitat lifespan carrying capacity was estimated as 8 larvae per cm(2).
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