River ecosystems, mainly those draining tropical dry forests, are among the most endangered tropical ecosystems and a major conservation priority in South America, as elsewhere. In this study, we assessed the influence of environmental factors (e.g., precipitation) and riparian vegetation on Trichoptera larval assemblages colonizing four substrates (rock, gravel, sand, and litter) in the Venadillo and Opia watersheds (Tolima, Colombia). In each river, five 20m reaches nested into two 100m segments (one at ~550 and another at ~250masl), were surveyed for benthic invertebrates in the above mentioned substrates. In addition, water samples were collected for physicochemical analyses and the QBR index (“qualitat del bosc de ribera” or riparian forest quality) was applied in both rivers. A total of 6 282 larvae were collected, belonging to 11 families and 22 genera, representing 73.30% and 43.13% of the Trichoptera fauna reported to Colombia, respectively. The most abundant families were Hydropsychidae (49.86%) and Philopotamidae (25.44%) and the least abundant Odontoceridae (0.16%) and Hydrobiosidae (0.06%). The genera Smicridea, Chimarra, Protoptila, Neotrichia, and Leptonema, were common during dry and rainy seasons. The main factors related to changes in composition, richness, and abundance of larval Trichoptera were seasonality and riparian vegetation, which can influence organic matter supply, availability and stability of substrates, and colonization and population dynamics. Trichoptera assemblages showed no significant differences among substrates. However sampling points located at high elevation and in non-urbanized areas offered the largest variety of substrates and richness. Our results indicate that Trichoptera larvae are an important biotic element in freshwater ecosystems and that they are sensitive to environmental changes. Hence, our study suggests that caddisflies may be used as potential organisms for the biomonitoring of tropical dry forest rivers. The implementation of these studies is urgent, considering that degradation of freshwater ecosystems tends to be severe and persistent in dry forest. Rev. Biol. Trop. 62 (Suppl. 2): 21-40. Epub 2014 April 01.
Keywords: aquatic insects, Trichoptera, tropical dry forest, freshwater ecosystem, precipitation, benthic substrates.