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Effects of burial on leaf litter quality, microbial conditioning and palatability to three shredder taxa

Abstract : 1. Heterotrophic microorganisms are crucial for mineralising leaf litter and rendering it more palatable to leaf-shredding invertebrates. A substantial part of leaf litter entering running waters may be buried in the streambed and thus be exposed to the constraining conditions prevailing in the hyporheic zone. The fate of this buried organic matter and particularly the role of microbial conditioning in this habitat remain largely unexplored. 2. The aim of this study was to determine how the location of leaf litter within the streambed (i.e. at the surface or buried), as well as the leaf litter burial history, may affect the leaf-associated aquatic hyphomycete communities and therefore leaf consumption by invertebrate detritivores. We tested the hypotheses that (i) burial of leaf litter would result in lower decomposition rates associated with changes in microbial assemblages compared with leaf litter at the surface and (ii) altered microbial conditioning of buried leaf litter would lead to decreased quality and palatability to their consumers, translating into lower growth rates of detritivores. 3. These hypotheses were tested experimentally in a second-order stream where leaf-associated microbial communities, as well as leaf litter decomposition rates, elemental composition and toughness, were compared across controlled treatments differing by their location within the streambed. We examined the effects of the diverse conditioning treatments on decaying leaf palatability to consumers through feeding trials on three shredder taxa including a freshwater amphipod, of which we also determined the growth rate. 4. Microbial leaf litter decomposition, fungal biomass and sporulation rates were reduced when leaf litter was buried in the hyporheic zone. While the total species richness of fungal assemblages was similar among treatments, the composition of fungal assemblages was affected by leaf litter burial in sediment. 5. Leaf litter burial markedly affected the food quality (especially P content) of leaf material, probably due to the changes in microbial conditioning. Leaf litter palatability to shredders was highest for leaves exposed at the sediment surface and tended to be negatively related to leaf litter toughness and C⁄P ratio. In addition, burial of leaf litter led to lower amphipod growth rates, which were positively correlated with leaf litter P content. 6. These results emphasise the importance of leaf colonisation by aquatic fungi in the hyporheic zone of headwater streams, where fungal conditioning of leaf litter appears particularly critical for nutrient and energy transfer to higher trophic levels.
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Michael Danger, Julien Cornut, Arnaud Elger, Eric Chauvet. Effects of burial on leaf litter quality, microbial conditioning and palatability to three shredder taxa. Freshwater Biology, Wiley, 2012, vol. 57, pp. 1017-1030. ⟨10.1111/j.1365-2427.2012.02762.x⟩. ⟨hal-00955458⟩



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