, Volume 122, Issue 2, pp 258-263

Nutrient addition accelerates leaf breakdown in an alpine springbrook

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This study assessed the effect of nutrient enrichment on organic matter breakdown in an alpine springbrook, using alder leaf packs to which phosphorus and nitrogen were added in the form of slow-release fertilizer briquettes. The breakdown of leaf packs with nutrients added (k=0.0284 day–1) was significantly faster than that of unfertilized packs (k=0.0137 day–1), resulting in a 30% higher mass loss after 42 days. Unfertilized leaves enclosed in fine-mesh bags broke down at an even slower rate (k=0.0062 day–1). Phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations were initially higher in leaf packs with nutrients added, but this difference disappeared within 3 weeks. Fungal biomass developing in decomposing leaves was substantial (c. 55 mg dry mass per 1 g leaf dry mass) although similar between fertilized and unfertilized packs, as was the sporulation activity of aquatic hyphomycetes. There was a significantly greater number and higher biomass of macroinvertebrates (shredding nemourid stoneflies in particular) on the fertilized packs, suggesting that the increased leaf mass loss was brought about by shredder feeding.

Received: 11 March 1999 / Accepted: 6 September 1999