Dispersal by Aquatic Insects

  • Michael L. MayEmail author


All habitats change over time, so most organisms must resist unfavorable conditions or disperse to more favorable localities. Typically, aquatic habitats are relatively short lived because of drying or infilling. Aquatic insects, then, often have adaptations for effective dispersal, sometimes over long distances and most often by flight. This chapter examines some of the environmental drivers and organismal responses that affect the nature of dispersal. These include consideration of how different habitats affect dispersal, especially some differences between lentic and lotic habitats. Dispersal characteristics may also have major effects on genetic structure of populations. Both selective forces and proximate cues affect when insects disperse and when and where they colonize new habitats; availability of space, presence of predators, and availability of food may all play a role, depending on species and circumstances. Adaptations for dispersal include, in addition to active flight, behaviors that promote passive movement by wind, dispersal polymorphism (i.e., changes in body structure, such as wing development, that enhance dispersal, usually hormonally controlled and incurring some cost in fecundity), increased body size, and timing of diapause and reproduction. In a few species dispersal extends to migrations of hundreds of kilometers and may have important seasonal effects on habitats of origin and of destination. Dispersal is also integral to the concept of metapopulations and in fact may be a major driver of community composition and dynamics. Simultaneous dispersal of very large insect populations can have an important effect on nutrient and energy flow to and from communities. Finally, dispersal may be a critical determinant of whether and how aquatic insects respond to climate warming.


Geographic range Use of habitat Habitat template Community dynamics Climate warming 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EntomologyRutgers UniversityNew BrunswickUSA

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