The importance of terrestrial arthropods has been documented in temperate stream ecosystems, but little is known about the magnitude of these inputs in tropical streams. Terrestrial arthropods falling from the canopy of tropical forests may be an important subsidy to tropical stream food webs and could also represent an important flux of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) in nutrient-poor headwater streams. We quantified input rates of terrestrial insects in eight streams draining lowland tropical wet forest in Costa Rica. In two focal headwater streams, we also measured capture efficiency by the fish assemblage and quantified terrestrially derived N- and P-excretion relative to stream nutrient uptake rates. Average input rates of terrestrial insects ranged from 5 to 41 mg dry mass/m2/d, exceeding previous measurements of aquatic invertebrate secondary production in these study streams, and were relatively consistent year-round, in contrast to values reported in temperate streams. Terrestrial insects accounted for half of the diet of the dominant fish species, Priapicthys annectens. Although terrestrially derived fish excretion was found to be a small flux relative to measured nutrient uptake rates in the focal streams, the efficient capture and processing of terrestrial arthropods by fish made these nutrients available to the local stream ecosystem. This aquatic-terrestrial linkage is likely being decoupled by deforestation in many tropical regions, with largely unknown but potentially important ecological consequences.
Additional publication details
Importance of terrestrial arthropods as subsidies in lowland Neotropical rain forest stream ecosystems