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The roles of abiotic factors, dispersal, and species interactions in structuring stream assemblages of black flies (Diptera: Simuliidae)

John W McCreadie1* and Peter H Adler2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biological Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL 36688, USA

2 School of Agricultural, Forest & Environmental Sciences (Entomology), Clemson University, Clemson, SC 29634, USA

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Aquatic Biosystems 2012, 8:14  doi:10.1186/2046-9063-8-14

Published: 28 June 2012



The patterns and drivers of species assemblages represent the core of community ecology. We focus on the assemblages of a single family of ubiquitous lotic insects, the Simuliidae (black flies), of which the larvae play a critical role in resource turnover in steams. We use Mantel tests and null models to tease out the potential influence of abiotic stream conditions, species interactions, and dispersal on the assemblage patterns of larval black flies over two spatial scales (within and across ecoregions) and two seasons (spring and summer).


When stream sites were considered across ecoregions in the spring, stream conditions and dispersal were correlated significantly with species similarity; however, within ecoregions in the spring, dispersal was important only in the Piedmont and Sandhills and abiotic factors only in the Mountains. In contrast, results of the summer analyses within and across ecoregions were congruent; assemblage similarity was significantly correlated with stream conditions both across and within ecoregions. Null models suggested that patterns of species segregation in the spring were consistent with a community structured by competition, whereas patterns in the summer were consistent with species assemblages influenced by abiotic factors.


Species composition of black flies at streams sites is correlated with dispersal factors and stream conditions, but results vary over spatial and temporal scales. Communities of black flies can be viewed within a metacommunity context; local assemblages are consistent with species sorting and mass effects. Given that black flies have a terrestrial stage, with females deciding where to place the eggs, a full understanding of the processes that determine local aquatic assemblages will require integration of the dynamics of the aquatic immature stages and the terrestrial adults.

Black flies; Community structure; Competition; Co-occurrence; Dispersal; Mantel tests; Null models; Simuliidae; Streams