Spatial and ontogenetic variations in the diet of a widely distributed stonefly Claudioperla tigrina (Plecoptera: Gripopterygidae)
Dietary information gives insight into several ecological processes acting in lotic ecosystems. This work aimed: 1) to identify the dietary habits of Claudioperla tigrina immature stages along a wide altitudinal as well as latitudinal gradient in North Argentina; 2) to define the functional feeding group (FFG) of C. tigrina; 3) to evaluate differences in diet in the studied sites. Studied nymphs were collected from localities widely scattered in Northwestern Argentina and they fell into different developmental stages (four size classes). The ingested material was extracted from the foregut and midgut by using thorax ventral dissection. Dietary profiles were analyzed through the estimation of parameters associated with a Dirichlet-multinomial distribution. ANOVA’s were performed for each food item using sites as factor. Multidimensional Scaling was used to identify sites with similar dietary profiles. An analysis of food-niche breadth was also performed to evaluate the degree of dietary diversification for the resources consumed in each site. Mouthparts are similar across the different size classes, excepting the increasing sclerotization recorded with age. Mouthparts retained most of the typical chewing groundplan, showing relatively short labial and maxillar palps, and strong, sclerotized and denticulated mandibles and maxillae. Our results pointed out that the nymphs of C. tigrina always ingest two or more food items (CPOM, FPOM, invertebrates and algae), suggesting thus a flexible diet. The diet changed in relation to body size, while finer particles were consumed in the early stages, larger particles were ingested in final stages. Coarse particulate organic matter was the dominant food item, with signals of shredding during ingestion. Differences between sites for FPOM, invertebrates, algae and sediment were detected, but not for MOPG. Correlations were obtained for the first two axis of the MDS analysis. Sites AP, LT, LI, C and M (Yungas Rainforest and Humid Grassland) were negatively correlated with the axis 1 which was associated with increased consumption of FPOM. On the positive side of the axis the site P (High Andes) is associated with a greater proportion of invertebrates and sediment. The sites IN (Humid Grassland) and LR (Argentine Northwest Monte and Thistle of the Prepuna) were located at the positive domain of axis 2 which is in turn associated with a greater count of algae in the dietary contents. We found significant differences in the quantity of secondary items, and this is likely related with the resources environmental availability. The FFG of Claudioperla tigrina is primarily shredder/collector-gatherer in Yungas Rainforest and Humid Grassland shredder/predator in High Andes. FFG classification of C. tigrina and the definition of their role for organic matter processing is an important step for future studies based on functional groups such as analysis of food webs.