, Volume 147, Issue 3, pp 469–478 | Cite as

Composition of speciose leaf litter alters stream detritivore growth, feeding activity and leaf breakdown

  • Christopher M. SwanEmail author
  • Margaret A. Palmer
Plant Animal Interactions


Leaf litter derived from riparian trees can control secondary production of detritivores in forested streams. Species-rich assemblages of leaf litter reflect riparian plant species richness and represent a heterogeneous resource for stream consumers. Such variation in resource quality may alter consumer growth and thus the feedback on leaf breakdown rate via changes in feeding activity. To assess the consequences of this type of resource heterogeneity on both consumer growth and subsequent litter breakdown, we performed a laboratory experiment where we offered a leaf-shredding stream detritivore (the stonefly Tallaperla maria, Peltoperlidae) ten treatments of either single- or mixed-species leaf litter. We measured consumer growth rate, breakdown rate and feeding activity both with and without consumers for each treatment and showed that all three variables responded to speciose leaf litter. However, the number of leaf species was not responsible for these results, but leaf species composition explained the apparent non-additive effects. T. maria growth responded both positively and negatively to litter composition, and growth on mixed-litter could not always be predicted by averaging estimates of growth in single-species treatments. Furthermore, breakdown and feeding rates in mixed litter treatments could not always be predicted from estimates of single-species rates. Given that species richness and composition of senesced leaves in streams reflects riparian plant species richness, in-stream secondary production of detritivores and organic matter dynamics may be related to species loss of trees in the riparian zone. Loss of key species may be more critical to maintaining such processes than species richness per se.


Mixed detritus Non-additive effects Plant species richness Riparian Stonefly 



We thank Emily Bernhardt, Laura Craig, Holly Menninger, Aaron Moore, Dave Richardson and Bob Smith for their scientific input, comments and editing. Comments by two anonymous reviewers greatly improved the text. This research was supported by grants awarded to CMS from the Chesapeake Bay Fund (University of Maryland) and to MAP from the National Science Foundation (DEB-9981376).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography & Environmental SystemsUniversity of MarylandBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Chesapeake Biological LaboratoryUniversity of Maryland Center for Environmental ScienceSolomonsUSA

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