1. Two sampling techniques were used to characterize invertebrate communities in eight, low-order streams along an altitudinal gradient in Costa Rica that represents the last continuous tract of primary forest spanning such extremes in elevation (i.e. near sea level to 2900 m a.s.l.) along the Caribbean Slope of Central America. A standard Surber sampler was used to sample invertebrates on the stream bottom, and drift sampling nets were used to sample invertebrates drifting in the stream flow. 2. Sites were established at 30, 50, 700 1800 and 2700 m a.s.l. In one to two streams per site, six Surber samples were collected, and drift was sampled every 3 h over one 24-h period between April and August 1994. All sites were in primary forest, with the exception of the lowest elevation site (30 m) which was located in banana plantations. 3. Both sampling techniques indicated that Diptera (Chironomidae) and Ephemeroptera were the dominant insect groups at all sites. Disturbed streams draining banana plantations were dominated by Chironomidae and had lower taxon richness and diversity than other sites. 4. While data from benthic samples indicated that insects were the major faunal component (> 90%) at all sites, drift samples were dominated by larval shrimps (> 50%) at the 30 m and 50 m sites. 5. Drift periodicity of invertebrates was observed at those sites characterized by predaceous fishes: nocturnal drift densities were higher than diurnal densities at 30, 50 and 700 m a.s.l., however, no periodicity was observed at 1800 and 2700 m a.s.l. where fish were absent. 6. This study shows the importance of measuring invertebrate drift, in addition to directly sampling the benthos. Drift sampling provided data on a major community component (shrimps) of lowland tropical streams, that would have been overlooked using traditional benthic sampling techniques, and in some cases provided additional information on taxon richness. 7. Based on results of the present study, it is recommended that drift sampling be included as a standard complementary tool to benthic sampling in biological assessments (e.g. bioassessment protocols) of tropical streams, which are often characterized by migratory invertebrate species such as shrimps. Drift samples provide critical information on the presence or absence of shrimps and also on the timing and magnitude of their migration which is an important link between many tropical rivers and their estuaries.
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