Beetle and Plant Density As Cues Initiating Disperal In Two Species of Adult Predaceous Diving Beetles

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Biological Sciences


Dispersal can influence population dynamics, species distributions, and community assembly, but few studies have attempted to determine the factors that affect dispersal of insects in natural populations. Consequently, little is known about how proximate factors affect the dispersal behavior of individuals or populations, or how an organism’s behavior may change in light of such factors. Adult predaceous diving beetles are active dispersers and are important predators in isolated aquatic habitats. We conducted interrelated studies to determine how several factors affected dispersal in two common pond-inhabiting species in southern Alberta, Canada: Graphoderus occidentalis and Rhantus sericans. Specifically, we (1) experimentally tested the effect of plant and beetle densities on dispersal probabilities in ponds; (2) surveyed ponds and determined the relationships among beetle densities and plant densities and water depth; and (3) conducted laboratory trials to determine how beetle behavior changed in response to variation in plant densities, conspecific densities, food, and water depth. Our field experiment determined that both species exhibited density dependence, with higher beetle densities leading to higher dispersal probabilities. Low plant density also appeared to increase beetle dispersal. Consistent with our experimental results, densities of R. sericans in ponds were significantly related to plant density and varied also with water depth; G. occidentalis densities did not vary with either factor. In the laboratory, behavior varied with plant density only for R. sericans, which swam at low density but were sedentary at high density. Both species responded to depth, with high beetle densities eliciting beetles to spend more time in deeper water. The presence of food caused opposite responses for G. occidentalis between experiments. Behavioral changes in response to patch-level heterogeneity likely influence dispersal in natural populations and are expected to be important for observed patterns of individuals in nature.

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