, Volume 745, Issue 1, pp 97–109 | Cite as

Acid–base status mediates the selection of organic habitats by upland stream invertebrates

  • Sarah R. JohnstonEmail author
  • Ian P. Vaughan
  • S. J. Ormerod
Primary Research Paper


Freshwater bryophytes support large numbers of invertebrates, but their importance compared to other organic habitats, e.g. submerged terrestrial leaf-litter, is seldom assessed. There is also little information about how water quality might affect bryophyte–invertebrate interactions. Here, we compare macroinvertebrate colonisation of bryophytes and leaf-litter in streams of contrasting acidity. Litterbags containing the liverwort Nardia compressa, a moss mixture dominated by Platyhypnidium riparioides, and oak leaves (Quercus spp.) were exposed in replicate streams at the Llyn Brianne Stream Observatory (Wales, UK), and collected after 42 and 75 days. The family richness and abundance of invertebrates were significantly higher in circumneutral than acid samples. In circumneutral streams, both were significantly higher in oak and N. compressa than in P. riparioides. Under acid conditions, invertebrate colonisation of bryophytes declined markedly relative to oak, due largely to reduced numbers of the otherwise-dominant Leuctridae. Invertebrate assemblage composition differed with both acid–base status and litter type, with acid-tolerant taxa positively associated with bryophytes. We conclude that oak litter and N. compressa are equally valuable habitat under circumneutral conditions, but in acid streams bryophyte quality declines even for acid-tolerant taxa. This effect is consistent with invertebrates using bryophytes as more than physical habitat alone.


Acidification Bryophytes Insects Leaf litter Macroinvertebrates Streams 



Marian Pye and James Ryalls gave invaluable assistance with fieldwork. We thank Dr. Hugh Feeley for kindly assisting with the chemistry data, and Dr. Linda Johnston for valuable discussion during production of the manuscript. We also thank two anonymous reviewers whose comments have helped us to improve the manuscript. This research was funded by Cardiff School of Biosciences, the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and the Llyn Brianne Stream Observatory. SJO was funded by the DURESS project (NERC/J014818/1) within the BESS programme funded by NERC, LWEC and BBSRC.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah R. Johnston
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ian P. Vaughan
    • 1
  • S. J. Ormerod
    • 1
  1. 1.Catchment Research Group, Cardiff School of BiosciencesCardiff UniversityCardiffWales, UK

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