Influence and ecological importance of aquatic beetles (Coleoptera: Adephaga)

Influence and ecological importance of aquatic beetles (Coleoptera: Adephaga)

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By Albert Deler-Hernández and Franklyn Cala-Riquelme

Coleoptera are a group of great interest and biological, economic and ecological importance. These bioregulatory aquatic insects have morphological characteristics that make them have the best adaptive conditions for existence in highly varied environments.

Beetles comprise a large group of living organisms with 400,000 described species (Whiteman & Sites, 2003). The Order Coleoptera is divided into four groups or suborders: Archostemata, Myxophaga, Adephaga and Polyphaga (Kukalová-Peck & Lawrence, 1993; Lawrence & Britton, 1994). The aquatic organisms are made up of eight families (Dytiscidae (3792), Gyrinidae (1100), Haliplidae (204), Noteridae (250), Amphizoidae (5), Aspidytidae (2), Paelobiidae (6) and Meruidae (1) (Nilsson , 2001; Ribera et al., 2002; Nilsson, 2003; Nilsson & Vondel, 2005; Spangler & Steiner, 2005) of which five (Dytiscidae, Gyrinidae, Haliplidae, Noteridae and Meruidae) are present in the Neotropical region.

Many abiotic and biotic factors related to the landscape characteristics of a particular area affect the distribution of aquatic beetles and are considered the most important variables in the biogeography of the aquatic members of the Adephaga suborder (Young, 1954; Lundkvist et al., 2001 ; Schäfer et al., 2006). For this reason, its distribution has frequently been correlated with the structure of the vegetation, the physiography and the type of soil. According to Whiteman & Sites (2003) this is due to the fact that most of these beetles are found in aquatic environments (eggs, larvae and adults) and terrestrial (pupa and adults), aspects of their life cycle that determine the potentiality of the species. to live in a specific habitat.

Environmental factors (water chemistry, water body size, or water heterogeneity) are very important in determining the structure of aquatic adiphage communities (Bazzanti et al., 1996; Gee et al., 1997; Lundkvist et al. ., 2001; Schäfer et al., 2006). Larson (1997) states that the type of habitats (lentic and lotic), as well as the substrate, the aquatic vegetation present in the environment, the characteristics of the closest vegetation, the stability of the environment (permanent or temporary), together with the The presence of other organisms such as fish and predatory odonates of aquatic beetles are factors that determine the heterogeneity of the environment with the possibility of having a greater number of available niches and therefore a greater number of species.

The physiological adaptations for the respiration of aquatic beetles have contributed to the fact that, in general, they have not been widely used to assess water quality (with the exception of the Elmidae family), despite being one of the most important components of the aquatic environment. (Epler, 1996). The characteristics of respiration have led some authors to conclude that the presence of most species of aquatic beetles is indifferent to the speed of the water or the characteristics of the environment (Tánago et al., 1979). To justify this, several reasons are given, which not only consider their air respiration, but also that adults are good fliers and very mobile, that they present great taxonomic problems and that their ecological requirements are poorly defined (Ribera & Foster, 1992). Most of these impediments are sustained only by incomplete knowledge of the group.

Coleoptera are a group of great interest and biological, economic and ecological importance. Ribera & Foster (1992) have proposed its usefulness to determine the degree of conservation of habitats. The information provided by the aquatic beetles is enough to characterize the different environments of a river, better than with traditionally used groups (Bournaud et al. 1980; Kaesler et al. 1973), constituting a good tool as indicators, reflecting environmental conditions with a face to the conservation management of areas particularly rich in rare or threatened species (Sánchez-Fernández et al., 2004), due to the large number of species they present, their great ecological-functional diversity and the great variety of habitats they occupy.

There are multiple examples of the possibilities of using dithiscids as indicators (Cuppen (1986); Eyre & Foster (1989); Pedersen & Perkins (1986) mainly in terms of oxygenation, water pollution and pH. Using aquatic coleopterans belonging to The genus Laccophilus Leach can be characterized polluted, semi-polluted (in recovery) and clean waters (Benetti & Fiorentin, 2003). Some species are sensitive to pollution, and others resistant to organic pollution such as the presence of heavy metals (Ribera & Foster, 1992) They are also very useful for detecting changes due to acidification (Nilsson, 1986; Cuppen, 1986), withstanding very acidic pH, conditions rarely observed in other insects (Ferreira-Jr. Et al., 1998). Communities typical of temporary habitats, with highly mobile species traditionally considered ubiquist, can be characterized by aquatic beetles (Hebauer 1988; Wigging et al., 1980); and it is possible e predict with great accuracy the general characteristics of the cycle, the length of the dry period and in some cases some of the characteristics of the immediate history of the habitat

Natural enemies

Predation on aquatic beetles is more intense in larval stages than in adults, which is why they are considered an important component of the food chain in the aquatic environment.

The feeding of many birds consists of aquatic insects, Embernagra platenses (Emberizidae: Passeriformes) and Histrionicus histrionicus (Anatidae: Anseriformes). Within their diet, the larval and adult stages of the Dytiscidae family are very common (Robert & Cloutier, 2001; Montalti et al., 2005). In those habitats where fish populations proliferate in a massive way, the ditiscids are scarce or absent (Larson et al., 2000). On the other hand, adults belonging to the Dytiscidae family are attacked by mites (Acherontacaridae: Acari) (Gerecke & Benfatti, 2004), parasitic wasps (Medophron dytiscivorus Mason, Ichneumonidae: Hymenoptera) (Mason, 1968) and fly worms ( Paraprosalpia dytisci Chillcott, Anthomyiidae: Diptera) (Chilcott & James, 1966). The pupal stages are subject to predation by insects belonging to the Carabidae and Staphylinidae families (Larson et al., 2000).


Coleopterophagia is a phenomenon present in many countries in America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. The Dytiscidae family is the one with the highest consumption within the aquatic coleopterans, mainly the genera Cybister Curtis, Dytiscus Linnaeus, Laccophilus Leach, Megadytes Dejean, Thermonectes Dejean and Rhantus Dejean and in the family Noteridae the genus Suphisellus. These beetles are mainly consumed in the larval stage (Ramos-Elorduy & Moreno, 2004).


The ditiscids are recognized within the group of bioregulatory species and with greater perspectives for natural control in aquatic ecosystems where mosquito larvae of medical-epidemiological importance proliferate massively (Santamarina & González, 1985; Lundkvist, 2003; Schäfer et al. , 2006).

Bioregulatory aquatic insects present morphological characteristics that make them have the best adaptive conditions for existence in highly varied environments. According to Lundkvist et al. (2003); Campos et al. (2004) and Schäfer et al. (2006) this offers ecologically superiority to other bioregulators such as fish for the control of larval populations of mosquitoes, since these can disperse through flight and colonize newly formed water bodies.

Lundkvist et al. (2003) reported that medium-sized dithiscids (genera Agabus Leach, Ilybius Erichson and Rhantus Dejean) can feed on an average of 70 larvae per day, while small species only approximately 10 larvae per day. This determines that in aquatic environments where there is a high abundance of medium and large species, they affect the increase in the densities of the larval populations of mosquitoes.

* Department of Conservation, Flora and Fauna Company (ENPFF), Territorial Office Santiago de Cuba, Cuba.

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