The structuring of aquatic macroinvertebrate communities within cave streams
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
The unusual environmental conditions within caves provided unique opportunities for developing an understanding of ecosystem processes. However, relatively few studies have been conducted on the ecology of New Zealand cave systems. The primary aim of this research was to investigate changes in aquatic invertebrate communities along a longitudinal gradient from the surface into caves and investigate the fundamental drivers of cave communities. This study was carried out in three streams (two in pasture catchments and one in a forested catchment) flowing into caves in the Waitomo region, North Island, New Zealand. In order to address these aims I carried out a longitudinal survey of 12 sites in each stream, an experimental manipulation of food, and an isotopic study of a single stream. The longitudinal survey of the three cave streams revealed light intensity as well as algal and CPOM biomass all decreased significantly from outside the caves into caves. In contrast, water temperature, dissolved oxygen, stream width, depth, and velocity did not vary significantly with distance into caves. Benthic aquatic macroinvertebrate communities within the caves were a depauperate subset of surface communities, appearing to be structured by gradients in resources and colonisation through drift. However, some invertebrate taxa (primarily predators) were rarely found within caves, further suggesting that resource gradients were structuring cave communities. Surprisingly, the densities of some collector-browsers (primarily mayflies) increased within cave streams relative to surface densities. This may be due to a decrease in competition and predation, flexible feeding strategies, and high drift propensity. However, the benthic densities of most taxa within the caves appeared to be related to drift densities. Although surface forest and pastoral stream communities differed in community composition and density 32 meters within the caves invertebrate community diversity and density became similar, although specific taxa within communities varied. This convergence was attributed to similar environmental gradients within the caves. The resource addition experiment (adding leaf packs) indicated that cave streams were resource limited; the addition of leaves produced communities of similar richness and density across the environmental gradient. The isotopic survey suggested cave stream invertebrate communities were reliant upon similar basal resources to surface streams. However, within the cave epilithon appeared to be increasingly important while filamentous algae were absent. Cave aquatic invertebrates were also found to support terrestrial predators (spiders, harvestmen, and glow-worms), presumably increasing the abundance and diversity of terrestrial cave communities. In conclusion, aquatic cave communities were reliant upon surface derived resources and consequently strongly linked to surface land-use and managerial practices.