Amphibitic stoneflies (Plecoptera) are integrators of ecosystem processes in alluvial aquifers of gravel-bed river floodplains

Jack A. Stanford, Amanda G. DelVecchia, J. Joseph Giersch, Rachel L. Malison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Over 50 years ago nymphs of the Plecoptera species, Paraperla frontalis Banks, 1906 (Plecoptera: Chloroperlidae), were shown to exist in a shallow floodplain aquifer of the Tobacco River, a gravel-bed river in western Montana and later they were documented throughout the main stems of the Flathead River system. Nymphs are almost never found in surface waters, until they emerge on the river shorelines. As teneral adults, they mate and subsequently deposit fertilized eggs into the river. This novel life cycle is termed “amphibitic.” Over the years we and others have found P. wilsoni Ricker, 1965 (Plecoptera: Chloroperlidae), Kathroperla perdita Banks, 1920 (Plecoptera: Kathroperlidae), and five species of Isocapnia Banks, 1938 (Plecoptera: Capniidae), including long-winged and brachypterous adults and wingless dwarfs (male and female), occupying amphibitic niches in the alluvial aquifers of rivers in Washington, Idaho, Colorado, Alaska and British Columbia. These stoneflies are remarkably tolerant of hypoxia which allows them to exist as abundant consumers in aquifer food webs subsidized by ancient methane. Indeed, stonefly tissues contain carbon that is up to 7000 years old, underscoring the existence of a strong interaction involving the uptake of labile carbon derived from methanogenic and methanotrophic process in aquifers. Details of life cycles, trophic relationships, distribution and abundance have been documented by a suite of studies on the Nyack Floodplain of the Middle Flathead River, Montana. In this paper we review the ecophysiology and ecology of these unique stoneflies in the context of their functional role in gravel-bed river ecosystems. This article is categorized under: Water and Life > Nature of Freshwater Ecosystems Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness.

Original languageEnglish
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • Plecoptera
  • alluvial aquifers
  • amphibitic
  • ecology
  • food-webs
  • hyporheic
  • life cycle
  • river floodplains
  • riverscape
  • stygoscape


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