Leaf litter breakdown in Mediterranean streams: effect of dissolved inorganic nutrients
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- Menéndez, M., Descals, E., Riera, T. et al. Hydrobiologia (2011) 669: 143. doi:10.1007/s10750-011-0657-9
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Agricultural runoff and urban activities can increase the inputs of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P), into headwater streams, leading to eutrophication and thus substantially affecting the structure and functions of benthic communities. A high P concentration in water stimulates the activity of heterotrophic microorganisms associated with leaf litter and, hence, influences decomposition rates and the availability of detrital resources for macroinvertebrates. Litter breakdown of alder (Alnus glutinosa) leaves enclosed in coarse mesh bags was studied in five low-order Mediterranean streams with different trophic status defined by their soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) concentrations. Decomposition rates differed significantly between these streams and increased with the eutrophication gradient, but these differences were not always related to the availability of P in water. Leaf mass loss was directly correlated with shredder density, but macroinvertebrate density and diversity were not related to P availability in water, and ammonium concentration had a negative effect on macroinvertebrate diversity and shredder relative abundance. A significantly positive effect of nitrate concentration in water on aquatic hyphomycete sporulation rates was observed, but there also was a negative effect of % ammonium on dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN). The predominantly available ionic form of DIN could thus affect the structure of the aquatic hyphomycete community. These results suggest that the response of litter decomposition to eutrophication in forested headwater streams is strongly influenced by local stream characteristics and by the nature of nutrient pollution.