Future increase in temperature more than decrease in litter quality can affect microbial litter decomposition in streams
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The predicted increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration for this century is expected to lead to increases in temperature and changes in litter quality that can affect small woodland streams, where water temperature is usually low and allochthonous organic matter constitutes the basis of the food web. We have assessed the individual and interactive effect of water temperature (5 and 10°C) and alder litter quality produced under ambient CO2 levels (ambient litter) or under CO2 concentrations predicted for 2050 (elevated litter) on litter decomposition and on fungal activity and assemblage structure. Litter decomposition rates and fungal respiration rates were significantly faster at 10 than at 5°C, but they were not affected by litter quality. Litter quality affected mycelial biomass accrual at 5 but not at 10°C, while increases in temperature stimulated biomass accrual on ambient but not on elevated litter. A similar pattern was observed for conidial production. All variables were stimulated on elevated litter at 10°C (future scenario) compared with ambient litter at 5°C (present scenario), but interactions between temperature and litter quality were additive. Temperature was the factor that most strongly affected the structure of aquatic hyphomycete assemblages. Our results indicate that if future increases in atmospheric CO2 lead to only slight modifications in litter quality, the litter decomposition and fungal activities and community structure will be strongly controlled by increased water temperature. This may have serious consequences for aquatic systems as faster litter decomposition may lead to food depletion for higher trophic levels.