The influence of an in-stream thermal gradient on chironomid emergence during winter

Corrie Nyquist, Bruce Vondracek, Leonard Ferrington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The River Continuum Concept (RCC) predicts that aquatic insect communities undergo predictable changes in composition from headwaters to downstream regions relative to changes in habitat. An important aspect of this change is stream temperature. Studies have been conducted on thermal partitioning of chironomids within the RCC and across streams with different thermal regimes; however, few have focused on effects of fine-scale within-stream temperature variability on winter chironomid composition. Our objectives were to characterize thermal heterogeneity within a small headwater trout stream during winter using slope and Y-intercepts from linear regressions of air–water temperatures and to document patterns of chironomid emergence and taxonomic composition relative to mean water temperatures, regression slopes, and Y-intercepts along stream length. We developed air–water temperature regressions using mean daily air and water temperatures for three headwater trout streams. We assessed similarity in taxonomic composition across sites by collecting and analyzing chironomid surface floating pupal exuviae. We demonstrate that regressions of mean daily air and water temperatures can characterize fine-scale thermal heterogeneity within and among headwater trout streams during winter. We also demonstrate that chironomid taxonomic composition varied at spatial scales substantially less than a kilometer within a stream that possessed significant thermal heterogeneity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3153-3167
Number of pages15
Issue number15
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • Aquatic insects
  • Community composition
  • Groundwater
  • Temperature preference
  • Water temperature

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