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Hydrobiologia

, 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
Article

Abstract

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 

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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1988

Authors and Affiliations

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

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