, Volume 162, Issue 3, pp 211–223 | Cite as

Processing of leaf litter in two northern jarrah forest streams, Western Australia: II. The role of macroinvertebrates and the influence of soluble polyphenols and inorganic sediment

  • Stuart E. Bunn


The long-term processing of jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) leaves was examined in a small forest stream to determine the role played by macroinvertebrates and the influence of soluble polyphenols in the leaves. The widely used exponential model of litter processing was inadequate in describing the fate of jarrah leaves. Decomposition occurred in three distinct phases and was best described by a quadratic model. After a substantial and rapid loss due to leaching, processing was virtually inhibited during summer and autumn, with no associated increase in the organic nitrogen content. Macroinvertebrates played a significant role in the latter part of the year, processing approximately 25% of the initial leaf mass.

High levels of soluble polyphenols in the leaves had an inhibitory effect on the microbial colonization of jarrah leaves, as indicated by the organic nitrogen content. However, pre-leaching of these compounds had no effect on the rate of decomposition nor on the leaf bag fauna. Polyphenols released into the stream during summer, when flows are low, may reach high concentrations and contribute to the slow processing at this time. Leaf litter processing in a nearby sedimented stream was compared with that in the undisturbed stream. Sediment disrupted litter processing, virtually eliminating the contribution made by invertebrates. Smothered leaf bags became anoxic, restricting microbial activity and reducing leaf quality. The low processing rate of leaves in the sedimented stream was attributed to differences in the leaf bag fauna. Leaf bags in the sedimented stream had more animals but shredders were poorly represented and predators were the most abundant feeding group. The low density of shredders was more likely to be a result of the reduced availability of detritus rather than selective predation. Whatever the reason, invertebrates in the sedimented stream were denied access to an important source of energy. Inorganic sediment can have a profound effect on stream function by interfering with the shredder-CPOM pathway.

Key words

leaf litter streams macroinvertebrates soluble polyphenols inorganic sediment 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Alexander, M., 1977. Introduction to Soil Microbiology, 2nd edition. John Wiley and Sons, New York.Google Scholar
  2. Bärlocher, F. & J. J. Oertli, 1978. Inhibitors of aquatic hyphomycetes in dead conifer needles. Mycologia 70: 964–974.Google Scholar
  3. Barmuta, L. A., 1978. The decomposition of Eucalyptus obliqua leaf packs in small stream ecosystems. B.Sc. Hons. Thesis, Department of Zoology, University of Adelaide, South Australia.Google Scholar
  4. Barnes, J. R. & G. W. Minshall, 1983. Stream ecology; an historical perspective. In Barnes, J. R. & G. W. Minshall (eds) Stream Ecology. Application and Testing of General Ecological Theory. Plenum Press, New York, London: 1–5.Google Scholar
  5. Benfield, E. F. & J. R. Webster, 1985. Shredder abundance and leaf breakdown in an Appalachian Mountain Stream. Freshwat. Biol. 15: 113–120.Google Scholar
  6. Bird, G. A. & N. K. Kaushik, 1981. Coarse particulate organic matter in streams. In Lock, M. A. & D. D. Williams (eds) Perspectives in Running Water Ecology. Plenum Press, New York, London: 41–68.Google Scholar
  7. Blackburn, W. M. & T. Petr, 1979. Forest litter decomposition and benthos in a mountain stream in Victoria, Australia. Arch. Hydrobiol. 86: 453–498.Google Scholar
  8. Blyth, J. D., T. J. Doeg & R. M. St Clair, 1984. Response of the macroinvertebrate fauna of the Mitta Mitta River, Victoria, to the construction and operation of Dartmouth Dam. I. Construction and initial filling period. Occ. Pap. Mus. Via 1: 83–100.Google Scholar
  9. Brusven, M. A. & K. V. Prather, 1975. Influence of stream sediment on the distribution of macrobenthos. J. Ent. Soc. Br. Columbia. 71: 25–32.Google Scholar
  10. Bunn, S. E. 1986a. Origin and fate of organic matter in Australian upland streams. In DeDeckker, P. & W. D. Williams (eds) Limnology in Australia. CSIRO, Australia: 277–291.Google Scholar
  11. Bunn, S. E., 1986b. Spatial and temporal variation in the macroinvertebrate fauna of streams of the northern jarrah forest, Western Australia: functional organization. Freshwat. Biol. 16: 621–632.Google Scholar
  12. Bunn, S. E., 1988. Processing of leaf litter in a northern jarrah forest stream, Western Australia: I. Seasonal differences. Hydrobiologia.Google Scholar
  13. Bunn, S. E., E. H. Edward & N. R. Loneragan, 1986. Spatial and temporal variation in the macroinvertebrate fauna of streams of the northern jarrah forest, Western Australia: community structure. Freshwat. Biol. 16: 67–91.Google Scholar
  14. Cordone, A. J. & D. W. Kelly, 1961. The influence of inorganic sediment on the aquatic life of streams. Calif. Fish. Game 47: 189–228.Google Scholar
  15. Cowling, S. W. & J. S. Waid, 1963. Aquatic hyphomycetes in Australia. Aust. J. Sci. 26: 122–123.Google Scholar
  16. Cummins, K. W., 1974. Structure and function of stream ecosystems. Bioscience 24: 631–641.Google Scholar
  17. Cummins, K. W. & M. J. Klug, 1979. Feeding ecology of stream invertebrates. Ann. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 10: 147–172.Google Scholar
  18. Cummins, K. W., R. C. Petersen, R. C. Howard, J. C. Wuycheck & V. I. Holt, 1973. Utilization of leaf litter by stream detritivores. Ecology 54: 336–345.Google Scholar
  19. Cummins, K. W., G. L. Spengler, G. M. Ward, R. M. Speaker, R. W. Ovink, D. C. Mahan & R. L. Mattingly, 1980. Processing of confined and naturally entrained leaf litter in a woodland stream ecosystem. Limnol. Oceanogr. 25: 952–957.Google Scholar
  20. Edwards, C. A. & G. W. Heath, 1975. Studies in leaf litter breakdown. III. The influence of leaf age. Pedobiologia. 15: 348–354.Google Scholar
  21. Hawkes, H. A., 1979. Invertebrates as indicators of river water quality. In James, A. & L. Evison (eds) Biological Indicators of Water Quality. John Wiley and Sons, Chichester, U. K.Google Scholar
  22. Hawkins, C. P. & J. R. Sedell, 1981. Longitudinal and seasonal changes in functional organization of macroinvertebrate communities in four Oregon streams. Ecology 62: 387–397.Google Scholar
  23. Hull, C. H. & N. H. Nie, 1981. SPSS Update 7 – 9. New Procedures and Facilities for Releases 7 – 9. McGraw Hill Book Company, Sydney, 402 pp.Google Scholar
  24. Hurlbert, S. H., 1984. Pseudoreplication and the design of ecological field experiments. Ecol. Monogr. 54: 187–211.Google Scholar
  25. Kaushik, N. K. & H. B. N. Hynes, 1971. The fate of dead leaves that fall into streams. Arch. Hydrobiol. 68: 465–515.Google Scholar
  26. Lemly, A. D., 1982. Modification of benthic insect communities in polluted streams: combined effects of sedimentation and nutrient enrichment. Hydrobiologia 87: 229–245.Google Scholar
  27. Nuttall, P. M., 1972. The effect of sand deposition on the macroinvertebrate fauna of the River Camel, Cornwall. Freshwat. Biol. 2: 181–186.Google Scholar
  28. Oberndorfer, R. Y., J. McArthur & J. R. Barnes, 1984. The effect of invertebrate predators on leaf litter processing in an alpine stream. Ecology 65: 1325–1331.Google Scholar
  29. O'Keefe, M. & P S. Lake, in press. The decomposition of pine, eucalypt and Acacia litter in a small upland Victorian stream. Bull. Aust. Soc. Limnol.Google Scholar
  30. Petersen, R. C. & K. W. Cummins, 1974. Leaf processing in a woodland stream. Freshwat. Biol. 4: 343–368.Google Scholar
  31. Pidgeon, R. W. J. & S. C. Cairns, 1981. Decomposition and colonization by invertebrates of native and exotic leaf material in a small stream in New England (Australia). Hydrobiologia 77: 113–127.Google Scholar
  32. Rounick, J. S. & M. J. Winterbourn, 1983. Leaf processing in two contrasting beech forest streams: effects of physical and biotic factors on litter breakdown. Arch. Hydrobiol. 96: 448–474.Google Scholar
  33. Sedell, J. R., F. J. Triska & N. S. Triska, 1975. The processing of conifer and hardwood leaves in two coniferous forest streams. I. Weight loss and associated invertebrates. Verh. int. Ver. Limnol. 19: 1617–1627.Google Scholar
  34. Short, R. A., S. P. Canton & J. V. Ward, 1980. Detrital processing and associated macroinvertebrates in a Colorado Mountain stream. Ecology 61: 727–732.Google Scholar
  35. Suberkropp, K. & M. J. Klug, 1976. Fungi and bacteria associated with leaves during processing in a woodland stream. Ecology. 57: 707–719.Google Scholar
  36. Wallace, J. B. & R. W. Merritt, 1980. Filter feeding ecology of aquatic insects. Ann. Rev. Ent. 25: 103–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Wallace, J. B., J. R. Webster & T. F. Cuffney, 1982. Stream detritus dynamics: regulation by invertebrate consumers. Oecologia 53: 197–200.Google Scholar
  38. Webster, J. R. & J. B. Waide, 1982. Effects of forest clearcutting on leaf breakdown in a southern Appalachian stream. Freshwat. Biol. 12: 331–344.Google Scholar
  39. Wieder, R. K. & G. E. Lang, 1982. A critique of the analytical methods used in examining decomposition data obtained from litter bags. Ecology 63: 1636–1642.Google Scholar
  40. Zar, J. H., 1974. Biostatistical Analysis. Prentice Hall, N. J., 620 pp.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stuart E. Bunn
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of Western AustraliaNedlandsWestern Australia

Personalised recommendations