Responses to river inundation pressures control prey selection of riparian beetles

Matt J. O'Callaghan, David Hannah, Ian Boomer, Jonathan Sadler, Mike Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
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Riparian habitats are subjected to frequent inundation (flooding) and are characterised by food webs that exhibit variability in aquatic/terrestrial subsidies across the ecotone. The strength of this subsidy in active riparian floodplains is thought to underpin local biodiversity. Terrestrial invertebrates dominate the fauna, exhibiting traits that allow exploitation of variable aquatic subsidies while reducing inundation pressures, leading to inter-species micro-spatial positioning. The effect these strategies have on prey selection is not known. This study hypothesised that plasticity in prey choice from either aquatic or terrestrial sources is an important trait linked to inundation tolerance and avoidance.

Method/Principal Findings

We used hydrological, isotopic and habitat analyses to investigate the diet of riparian Coleoptera in relation to inundation risk and relative spatial positioning in the floodplain. The study examined patch scale and longitudinal changes in utilisation of the aquatic subsidy according to species traits. Prey sourced from terrestrial or emerging/stranded aquatic invertebrates varied in relation to traits for inundation avoidance or tolerance strategies. Traits that favoured rapid dispersal corresponded with highest proportions of aquatic prey, with behavioural traits further predicting uptake. Less able dispersers showed minimal use of aquatic subsidy and switched to a terrestrial diet under moderate inundation pressures. All trait groups showed a seasonal shift in diet towards terrestrial prey in the early spring. Prey selection became exaggerated towards aquatic prey in downstream samples.


Our results suggest that partitioning of resources and habitat creates overlapping niches that increase the processing of external subsidies in riparian habitats. By demonstrating functional complexity, this work advances understanding of floodplain ecosystem processes and highlights the importance of hydrological variability. With an increasing interest in reconnecting rivers to their floodplains, these invertebrates represent a key functional element in ensuring that such reconnections have demonstrable ecological value.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere61866
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 17 Apr 2013


  • Beetles
  • Flooding
  • Habitats
  • Invertebrates
  • Predation
  • Rivers
  • Sediment
  • Trophic interactions


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