Graduate Theses & Dissertations

regional comparison of the structure and function of benthic macroinvertebrate communities within Precambrian Shield and St. Lawrence lowland lakes in south-central Ontario
Benthic macroinvertebrtes (BMI) are functionally important in aquatic ecosystems; as such, knowledge of their community structure and function is critical for understanding these systems. BMI were sampled from ten lakes in each of two regions of south-central Ontario to investigate which chemical and physical variables could be shaping their community structure and function. Ten Precambrian Shield lakes in the Muskoka-Haliburton region, and ten St Lawrence lowland lakes in the Kawartha lakes region were sampled. These lakes are geologically and chemically distinct, creating natural chemical and physical gradients within and between both regions. Community function was assessed using stable isotope analysis to elucidate carbon transfer dynamics (δ13C) and food web interactions (δ15N). It was predicted that the BMI from Shield lakes would have a δ13C signature indicative of allochthonous carbon subsidies, whereas the lowland lake BMI signatures would reflect autochthonous production. Additionally, it was predicted that the food web length (measured in δ15N units) would be different in Shield and lowland lakes. Both of these predictions were supported; however, the data indicate that δ13C signatures are more likely influenced by catchment geology (represented by bicarbonate concentration) than the extent of allochthony. The best predictor of food web length was found to be region. To assess BMI community structure, taxonomic richness, %EPT (% Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, Trichoptera; a water quality index), and distribution of functional feeding groups were examined. Based on chemistry it was expected that the Shield lakes would be more speciose, and of greater water quality (relatively lower nutrient levels). These predictions were rejected; since there were no significant regional differences in taxonomic richness or biologically inferred water quality (%EPT). However, sediment size was found to best explain the variability in both metrics, with greater richness and %EPT found at sites with medium and small substrates than those with large substrates. Significant regional differences were found in the distribution of functional feeding groups. Most notably, there were significantly greater proportions of scrapers and shredders in the lowland and Shield lakes, respectively. Based on the feeding mechanisms of these invertebrates it can be inferred that allochthonous subsidies are likely of greater importance to Shield lake BMI communities than those of the lowland lakes; supporting the carbon transfer prediction. These findings provide insight about the structure and function of BMI communities from two dominant lake types in Ontario, and could be useful when determining how future chemical and physical changes will impact these communities. Author Keywords: benthic macroinvertebrates, community function, community structure, Precambrian Shield, stable isotopes, St. Lawrence lowlands

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