, Volume 434, Issue 1-3, pp 193-199

Leaf breakdown in a regulated desert river: Colorado River, Arizona, U.S.A.

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Abstract

We compared processing rates (k d) for leaves of the native willow (Salix exigua Nutt.) and cottonwood (Populus fremontii Wats.) to those of the non-native salt cedar (Tamarix chinensis Lour.) in the regulated Colorado River, U.S.A. Leaf packs of each species were incubated at Lees Ferry, approximately 26 km below Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona. Leaf packs were processed at 2, 21, 46, 84 and 142-d intervals. Water temperatures remained relatively constant (10 °C, SE ± 1 °C) during the study. There were significant differences in processing rates between species, with P. fremontii showing the fastest breakdown. After 142 d, only 20% of the P. fremontii leaf mass remained, whereas 30% and 52% of leaf masses remained for T. chinensis and S. exigua, respectively. The k d value for P. fremontii was 0.0062 compared to 0.0049 and 0.0038 for T. chinensis and S. exigua, respectively. Invertebrate colonization was not significantly different between native and non-native plant species with oligochaetes the most abundant animal colonizing the leaf packs. Dual stable isotope analysis showed that leaf material was not the primary food for invertebrates associated with leaf packs. Processing rates for all leaf types were slow in the regulated Colorado River compared to rates reported in many other systems. This is likely due to the lack of caddisfly and stonefly shredders and perhaps slow metabolic rates by microbes.