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Leaf diversity influences in-stream litter decomposition through effects on shredders

Abstract : 1. The functioning of many aquatic ecosystems is controlled by surrounding terrestrial ecosystems. In a view of growing interest in linking biodiversity to ecosystem-level processes, we examined whether and how leaf diversity influences litter decomposition and consumers in streams. 2. We tested experimentally the hypothesis that the effects of leaf diversity on decomposition are determined by the responses of leaf consumers to resource-habitat heterogeneity. Leaves from three common riparian trees, beech (Fagus sylvatica), hazel (Corylus avellana) and ash (Fraxinus excelsior), were exposed alone and in all possible mixtures of two and three species in a stream. We analysed individual leaf species for decomposition rate, microbial respiration and mycelial biomass, and we determined the species composition, abundance and biomass of shredders in leaf bags. 3. We found that the decomposition of the fastest decomposing leaves (hazel and ash) was substantially stimulated (up to twofold higher than single species leaf packs) in mixtures containing beech leaves, which are refractory. In contrast, the decomposition of beech leaves was not affected by leaf mixing. Such species-specific behaviour of leaves in species mixtures has been overlooked in previous studies that examined the overall decompo- sition of litter mixtures. 4. The effects of leaf diversity on decomposition varied with the abundance and biomass of shredders but not with microbial parameters. Beech leaves alone were less attractive to shredders than leaf packs made of hazel, ash or any mixture of species. Moreover, the presence of beech leaves in mixtures led to higher shredder abundance and biomass than we had expected from data from single species exposed alone. Lastly, we found that early instars of the caddisfly Potamophylax (the dominant shredder in terms of biomass) almost exclusively used the toughest material (i.e. beech leaves) to construct their cases. 5. Leaf pack heterogeneity may have altered shredder-mediated decomposition. Shredders colonising diverse leaf packs benefited from the stable substratum provided by beech leaves, whereas ash and hazel leaves were primarily used as food. Thus, our findings provide strong evidence for an intimate linkage between the diversity of riparian vegetation and aquatic communities.
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Isis Sanpera-Calbet, Antoine Lecerf, Eric Chauvet. Leaf diversity influences in-stream litter decomposition through effects on shredders. Freshwater Biology, Wiley, 2009, vol. 54, pp. 1671-1682. ⟨10.1111/j.1365-2427.2009.02216.x⟩. ⟨hal-00960747⟩



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