Benthic Fauna of Lakes

  • Robert G. Wetzel
  • Gene E. Likens


The animals living on and in the sediments and large plants of lakes are usually highly diverse. Much emphasis in the study of benthic fauna has been given to the immature stages of insects that often make up the dominant part of the total animal biomass of these habitats. Nearly all insect orders are represented. Some orders of insects are entirely aquatic; others inhabit fresh waters only during certain life stages. Segmented worms (oligochaetes and leeches), microcrustacea (ostracods), and macrocrus-tacea (mysids, isopods, decapods, and amphi-pods) often form major components of benthic fauna of fresh waters.

The sediment composition and characteristics of the water adjacent to the sediments are also highly variable. Attached microflora (bacteria, fungi, and algae) may occur in great abundance on sediments. These organisms and associated detrital organic matter often provide the predominant energy sources for the benthic fauna. Consequently, a variety of types of feeding and of reproductive dynamics occur among the benthic fauna. It is, therefore, essential in limnological analyses to obtain reliable quantitative estimates of the sizes and distributions of populations constituting these communities.

Quantitative estimations of benthic fauna require effective sampling procedures, separation of the organisms fjrom the substratum, identification, and evaluation of biomass of species and of their life history stages. Methods to accomplish these tasks are not totally satisfactory, and the taxonomy of many immature stages of benthic invertebrates is difficult and incompletely understood. Nonetheless, in spite of these problems, often it is important to analyze the response of population growth and survival and physiological characteristics (e.g., respiration, excretion, and assimilation) of the benthic fauna to environmental variations, such as temperature, oxygen concentrations, and food quantity and quality.

The living biomass (g/m2) of a population of animals at an instant in time and in a given habitat represents the net result of reproduction and growth and the opposing processes of loss (respiration, predation, mortality, emigration, and so on). Although the measurement of biomass gives an estimate of the extent of population development, from these data alone nothing can be said about the growth and reproduction of the organisms. More information is needed to evaluate production rates (g/m2/time). This information can be obtained only by detailed analyses of reproductive and physiological characteristics or survivorship and growth.

There are some general direct correlations between the overall productivity of fresh waters and benthic animal productivity [cf., summary of Wetzel (1999)]. Moreover, some general insight into benthic faunal composition and distribution in relation to lake characteristics can be obtained from simple quantitative analyses. The following exercise is directed toward the understanding of problems of sampling, sorting, and quantitative estimates of population size. Obviously, much more detailed investigations would be needed to determine secondary productivity and its control in research efforts. The monographs of Edmond-son and Winberg (1971), Winberg (1971), Brinkhurst (1974), Waters (1977),Benke (1984), and Rigler and Downing (1984) are excellent critical compilations on methods and are highly recommended sources for further study.


Aquatic Insect Benthic Organism Benthic Fauna Multiple Corer Benthic Animal 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Allen, K.R. 1951. The Horokiwi Stream. A study of a trout population. Bull. N. Z. Mar. Dep. Fish. 10:238 pp.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, R.O. 1959. A modified flotation technique for sorting bottom fauna samples. Limnol. Oceanogr. 4:223–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Benke, A.C. 1979. A modification of the Hynes method for estimating secondary production with particular significance for multivoltine populations. Limnol. Oceanogr. 24:168–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Benke, A.C. 1984. Secondary production in aquatic insects, pp. 289–322. In: V.H. Resh and D.M. Rosenberg, Editors. The Ecology of Aquatic Insects. Praeger, New York.Google Scholar
  5. Benke, A.C. 1993. Concepts and patterns of invertebrate production in running waters. Verhand. Internat. Verein. Limnol. 25:15–38.Google Scholar
  6. Benke, A.C., T.C. van Arsdall, Jr., and D.M. Gillespie. 1984. Invertebrate productivity in a subtropical blackwater river: The importance of habitat and life history. Ecol. Monogr. 54:25–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brinkhurst, R.O. 1974. The Benthos of Lakes. St. Martin’s Press, New York. 190 pp.Google Scholar
  8. Burton, W. and J.E Flannagan. 1973. An improved Ekman-type grab. J. Fish. Res. Bd. Canada 30:287–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cummins, K.W. 1962. An evaluation of some techniques for the collection and analysis of benthic samples with special emphasis on lotie waters. Amer. Midland Nat. 67:477–504.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cushman, R.M., H.H. Shugart, Jr., S.H. Hildebrand, and J.W. Elwood. 1978. The effect of growth curye and sampling regime on instantaneous-growth, removal-summation, and Hynes/Hamilton estimates of aquatic insect production: A computer simulation. Limnol Oceanogr. 23:184–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Davies, I.J. 1984. Sampling aquatic insect emergence, pp. 161–227. In: J.A. Downing and EH. Rigler, Editors. A Manual on Methods for the Assessment of Secondary Productivity. 2nd Ed. Blackwell, Oxford.Google Scholar
  12. Downing, J.A. 1979. Aggregation, transformation, and the design of benthos sampling programs. J. Fish. Res. Bd. Canada 36:1434–1463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Downing, J.A. 1984. Sampling the benthos of standing waters, pp. 87–130. In: J.A. Downing and F.H. Rigler, Editors. A Manual on Methods for the Assessment of Secondary Productivity. 2nd Ed. Blackwell, Oxford.Google Scholar
  14. Edmondson, W.T. and G.G. Winberg (eds). 1971. A Manual on Methods for the Assessment of Secondary Productivity in Fresh Waters. IBP Handbook No. 17. Blackwell, Oxford. 358 pp.Google Scholar
  15. Elliott, J.M. and C.M. Drake. 1981. A comparative study of seven grabs used for sampling benthic macroinvertebrates in rivers. Freshwat. Biol. 11:99–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Flannagan, J.F. 1970. Efficiencies of various grabs and corers in sampling freshwater benthos. J. Fish. Bd. Canada 27:1691–1700.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gallardo, V.A. 1965. Observations on the biting profiles of three 0.1 m2 bottom samplers. Ophelia 2:319–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gillespie, D.M. and A.C. Benke. 1979. Methods of calculating cohort production from field data—some relationships. Limnol. Oceanogr. 24:171–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gillespie, D.M., D.L. Stites, and A.C. Benke. 1985. An inexpensive core sampler for use in sandy substrata. Freshwat. Invertebr. Biol. 5:147–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hamilton, A.L. 1969a. A method of separating invertebrates from sediments using long wave ultraviolet light and fluorescent dyes. J. Fish. Res. Bd. Canada 22:1667–1672.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hamilton, A.L. 1969b. On estimating annual production. Limnol. Oceanogr. 14:771–782.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hamilton, A.L., W. Burton, and J.F. Flannagan. 1970. A multiple corer for sampling profundal benthos. J. Fish. Res. Bd. Canada 27:1867–1869.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Holme, N.A. 1964. Methods of sampling the benthos. Adv. Mar. Biol. 2:171–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Holme, N.A. and A.D. Mclntyre (eds). 1971. Methods for the Study of Marine Benthos. IBP Handbook No. 16. Blackwell, Oxford. 334 pp.Google Scholar
  25. Hynes, H.B.N. 1961. The invertebrate fauna of a Welsh mountain stream. Arch. Hydrobiol. 57:344–388.Google Scholar
  26. Hynes, H.B.N, and M.J. Coleman. 1968. A simple method of assessing the annual production of stream benthos. Limnol. Oceanogr. 13:569–573.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kajak, Z. 1971. Benthos of standing water, pp. 25–65. In: W.T. Edmondson and G.G. Winberg, Editors. A Manual on Methods for the Assessment of Secondary Productivity in Fresh Waters. IBP Handbook No. 17. Blackwell, Oxford.Google Scholar
  28. Kajak, Z., K. Dusoge, and A. Prejs. 1968. Application of the flotation technique to assessment of absolute numbers of benthos. Ekol. Polska. Ser. A, 16:607–620.Google Scholar
  29. Leuven, R.S.E.W, T.C.M. Brock, and H.A.M. van Druten. 1985. Effects of preservation on dry- and ash-free dry weight biomass of some common aquatic macro-invertebrates. Hydrobiologia 127:151–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mundie, J.H. 1971. Insect emergence traps, pp. 80–108. In: W.T. Edmondson and G.G. Winberg, Editors. A Manual on Methods for the Assessment of Secondary Productivity in Fresh Waters. IBP Handbook No. 17. Blackwell, Oxford.Google Scholar
  31. Nalepa, T.F and A. Robertson. 1981. Screen mesh size affects estimates of macro- and meiobenthos abundance and biomass in the Great Lakes. Can. J. Fish. Aquatic Sci. 38:1027–1038.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Nalepa, T.F., M.A. Quigley, and R.W. Ziegler. 1988. Sampling efficiency of the Ponar grab in two different benthic environments. J. Great Lakes Res. 14:89–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Powers, CF. and A. Robertson. 1967. Design and evaluation of an all-purpose benthos sampler. Spec. Rept. Great Lakes Res. Div. Univ. Mich. 30:126–131.Google Scholar
  34. Reish, D.J. 1959. A discussion of the importance of the screen size in washing quantitative marine bottom samples. Ecology 40:307–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Resh, V.H. 1975. The use of transect sampling in estimating single species production of aquatic insects. Verh. Int. Ver. Limnol. 19:3089–3094.Google Scholar
  36. Rigler, F.H. and J.A. Downing. 1984. The calculation of secondary productivity, pp. 19–58. In: J.A. Downing and F.H. Rigler, Editors. A Manual on Methods for the Assessment of Secondary Productivity. 2nd Ed. Blackwell, Oxford.Google Scholar
  37. Smock, L.A. 1980. Relationship between body size and biomass of aquatic insects. Freshwat. Biol. 10:375–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Stanford, J.A. 1973. A centrifuge method for determining live weights of aquatic insect larvae, with a note on weight loss in preservative. Ecology 54:449–451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Storey, A.W. and L.C.V. Pinder. 1985. Mesh size and efficiency of sampling of larval Chironomidae. Hydrobiologia 124:193–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Strayer, D.L. 1985. The benthic micrometazoans of Mirror Lake, New Hampshire. Arch. Hydrobiol./Suppl. 72:287–426.Google Scholar
  41. Walter, R.A. 1985. Production and limiting factors: Benthic macroinvertebrates, pp. 280–288. In: G.E. Likens, Editor. An Ecosystem Approach to Aquatic Ecology: Mirror Lake and its Environment. Springer-Verlag, New York.Google Scholar
  42. Waters, T.F. 1969. The turnover ratio in production ecology of freshwater invertebrates. Amer. Nat. 103:173–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Waters, T.F. 1977. Secondary production in inland waters. Adv. Ecol. Res. 10:91–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Waters, T.F. 1987. The effect of growth and survival patterns upon the cohort P/B ratio. J. N. Amer. Benthol. Soc. 6:223–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Waters, T.F. and G.W Crawford. 1973. Annual production of a stream mayfly population: A comparison of methods. Limnol. Oceanogr. 18:286–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wetzel, R.G. 1999. Limnology: Lake and River Ecosystems. 3rd Ed. Academic Press, San Diego (in press).Google Scholar
  47. Whitman, R.L., J.M. Inglis, W.J. Clark, and R.W. Clary. 1983. An inexpensive and simple elutriation device for separation of invertebrates from sand and gravel. Freshwat. Invertebr. Biol. 2:159–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Winberg, G.G. (ed). 1971. Methods for the Estimation of Production of Aquatic Animals. Academic Press, New York. 175 pp.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert G. Wetzel
    • 1
  • Gene E. Likens
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Biology, College of Arts and SciencesUniversity of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA
  2. 2.Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Cary ArboretumThe New York Botanical GardenMillbrookUSA

Personalised recommendations