Aquatic Sciences

, 73:537 | Cite as

Natural variation in immersion and emersion affects breakdown and invertebrate colonization of leaf litter in a temporary river

  • Roland Corti
  • T. Datry
  • L. Drummond
  • S. T. Larned
Recent Perspectives on Temporary River Ecology


Flow pulses that alternately immerse and expose benthic habitats are widely recognized as key determinants of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in rivers. Terrestrial leaf litter input, colonization, and breakdown are also key processes in river ecosystems, but little is known about the effects of alternating immersion and emersion on these processes. We used litterbags to examine breakdown, microbial activity, and colonization of Populus sp. leaves by invertebrates along a natural gradient in immersion and emersion (i.e., submergence and exposure to air) in a temporary river. Rates of leaf litter mass loss, microbial activity and colonization by invertebrates differed among litterbags that were permanently immersed, intermittently immersed and permanently emersed, and breakdown rate coefficients (k) decreased with increasing cumulative emersed duration (the total number of day of emersion during the experiment). In contrast, the frequency of emersed periods had no detectable effects on these variables. k was positively correlated with the density of invertebrate shredders in immersed litterbags, with microbial activity and shredder density in intermittent litterbags, and with microbial activity in emersed litterbags. These correlations suggest that the relative importance of microbial activity on k increases with emersed duration, due to the periodic elimination of aquatic shredders and the scarcity of terrestrial detritivores. The fact that leaf litter breakdown was detectable under permanently emersed conditions indicates that mechanisms other than shredding by invertebrates, such as leaching and photodegradation, are dominant in dry river habitats.


Terrestrial leaf litter Immersion–emersion cycles Terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates Microbial activity Scour pool 



We thank Helena Campbell, Leonie Clitherow, Christopher Dilley and David Thomas for assistance with field and laboratory work, Jochen Bind for help with elevation profiles, and Jon Harding for help with invertebrate classification. We thank Nicolas Lamouroux, Pierre Marmonnier and two anonymous reviewers for comments that improved the manuscript. Research funding was provided by the New Zealand Foundation for Research Science and Technology, Water Allocation Program (Contract C01X0308), and by Cemagref.


  1. Abelho M (2008) Effects of leaf litter species on macroinvertebrate colonization during decomposition in a Portuguese stream. Int Rev Hydrobiol 93:358–371CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Amalfitano S, Fazi S, Zoppini A, Barra-Caracciolo A, Grenni P, Puddu A (2008) Responses of benthic bacteria to experimental drying in sediments from Mediterranean temporary rivers. Microb Ecol 55:270–279PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Andersen DC, Nelson SM (2006) Flood pattern and weather determine Populus leaf litter breakdown and nitrogen dynamics on a cold desert floodplain. J Arid Environ 64:626–650CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Arscott DB, Larned S, Scarsbrook MR, Lambert P (2010) Aquatic invertebrate community structure along an intermittence gradient: Selwyn River, New Zealand. J North Am Benthol Soc 29:530–545CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Arsuffi TL, Suberkropp K (1988) Effects of fungal mycelia and enzymatically degraded leaves on feeding and performance of caddisfly (Trichoptera) larvae. J North Am Benthol Soc 7:205–211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Austin AT, Vivanco L (2006) Plant litter decomposition in a semi-arid ecosystem controlled by photodegradation. Nature 442:555–558PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Baldy V, Gessner MO, Chauvet E (1995) Bacteria, fungi and the breakdown of leaf litter in a large river. Oikos 74:93–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bärlocher F (2007) Decomposition and fungal community structure in aquatic environments. In: Hurst CJ, Crawford RL, Garland JL, Lipson DA, Mills AL, Stetzenbach LD (eds) Manual of environmental microbiology, 3rd edn. ASM Press, Washington, pp 469–478Google Scholar
  9. Battle JM, Golladay SW (2001) Hydroperiod influence on breakdown of leaf litter in cypress-gum wetlands. Am Midl Nat 146:128–145CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Benke AC, Chaubey I, Ward M, Dunn EL (2000) Flood pulse dynamics of an unregulated river floodplain in the Southeastern U.S. coastal plain. Ecology 81:2730–2741CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Benstead JP, March JG, Pringle CM, Ewel KC, Short JW (2009) Biodiversity and ecosystem function in species-poor communities: community structure and leaf litter breakdown in a pacific island stream. J North Am Benthol Soc 28:454–465CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Boulton AJ (1991) Eucalypt leaf decomposition in an intermittent stream in south-eastern Australia. Hydrobiol 211:123–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Buffington JM, Lisle TE, Woodsmith RD, Hilton S (2002) Controls on the size and occurrence of pools in coarse-grained forest rivers. River Res Appl 18:507–531CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chadderton WL (1988) Faunal and chemical characteristics of some Stewart Island streams. N Z Nai Sci 15:43–50Google Scholar
  15. Chergui H, Pattee E (1991) An experimental study of the breakdown of submerged leaves by hyphomycetes and invertebrates in Morocco. Freshw Biol 26:97–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Collins SL, Sinsabaugh RL, Crenshaw C, Green L, Porras-Alfaro A, Stursova M, Zeglin LH (2008) Pulse dynamics and microbial processes in aridland ecosystems. J Ecol 96:413–420CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Datry T, Larned ST (2008) River flow controls ecological processes and invertebrate assemblages in subsurface flowpaths of an ephemeral river reach. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 65:1532–1544CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Datry T, Larned ST, Scarsbrook MR (2007) Responses of hyporheic invertebrate assemblages to large-scale variation in flow permanence and surface-subsurface exchange. Freshw Biol 52:1452–1462CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Datry T, Corti R, Claret C, Philippe M (2011) Flow intermittence controls leaf litter decomposition in a French temporary alluvial river: the “drying memory”. Aquat Sci. doi: 10.1007/s00027-011-0193-8
  20. Fontvieille D, Outaguerouine A, Thevenot DR (1992) Fluorescein diacetate hydrolysis as a measure of microbial activity in aquatic systems: application to activated sludges. Environ Technol 13:531–540CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gallo ME, Porras-Alfaro A, Odenbach KJ, Sinsabaugh RL (2009) Photoacceleration of plant litter decomposition in an arid environment. Soil Biol Biochem 41:1433–1441CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gaudes A, Artigas J, Romani AM, Sabater S, Munoz I (2009) Contribution of microbial and invertebrate communities to leaf litter colonization in a Mediterranean stream. J North Am Benthol Soc 28:34–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gonçalves JF, Graça MAS, Callisto M (2007) Litter decomposition in a Cerrado savannah stream is retarded by leaf toughness, low dissolved nutrients and a low density of shredders. Freshw Biol 52:1440–1451CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Greenwood MJ, McIntosh AR (2008) Flooding impacts on responses of a riparian consumer to cross-ecosystem subsidies. Ecology 89:1489–1496PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Greenwood MJ, McIntosh AR (2010) Low river flow alters the biomass and population structure of a riparian predatory invertebrate. Freshw Biol 55:2062–2076CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hutchens JJ, Wallace JB (2002) Ecosystem linkages between southern Appalachian headwater streams and their banks: leaf litter breakdown and invertebrate assemblages. Ecosystems 5:80–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Iovieno P, Bääth E (2008) Effect of drying and rewetting on bacterial growth rates in soil. FEMS Microb Ecol 65:400–407CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Junk WJ, Bayley PB, Sparks RE (1989) The flood pulse concept in river-floodplain systems. In: Dodge DP (ed) Proceedings of the International Large River Symposium, vol 106. Canadian Special Publication of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, pp 110–127Google Scholar
  29. Kirby JM, Webster JR, Benfield EF (1983) The role of shredders in detrital dynamics of permanent and temporary streams. In: Fontaine TD, Bartell SM (eds) Dynamics of lotic ecosystems. Ann Arbor, USA, pp 425–435Google Scholar
  30. Kuehn KA, Steiner D, Gessner MO (2004) Diel mineralization patterns of standing-dead plant litter: implications for CO2 flux from wetlands. Ecology 85:2504–2518CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Langhans SD, Tockner K (2006) The role of timing, duration, and frequency of inundation in controlling leaf-litter and in a river-floodplain ecosystem (Tagliamento, NE Italy). Oecologia 147:501–509PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Langhans SD, Tiegs SD, Gessner M, Tockner K (2008) Leaf decomposition heterogeneity across a riverine floodplain mosaic. Aquat Sci 70:337–346CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Larned ST, Hicks MD, Schmidt J, Davey AJH, Dey K, Scarsbrook M, Arscott DB, Woods RA (2008) The Selwyn River of New Zealand: a benchmark system for alluvial plain rivers. River Res Appl 24:1–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Larned ST, Datry T, Arscott DB, Tockner K (2010a) Emerging concepts in temporary-river ecology. Freshw Biol 55:717–738CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Larned ST, Schmidt J, Datry T, Konrad CP, Dumas JK, Diettrich JC (2010b) Longitudinal river ecohydrology: flow variation down the lengths of alluvial rivers. Ecohydrology. doi: 10.1002/eco.126
  36. Ligeiro R, Moretti MS, Gonçalves JF, Callisto M (2010) What is more important for invertebrate colonization in a stream with low-quality litter inputs: exposure time or leaf species ? Hydrobiology 654:125–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Linklater W (1995) Breakdown and detritivore colonization of leaves in three New Zealand streams. Hydrobiology 306:241–250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Maamri A, Chergui H, Pattee E (1997) Leaf litter processing in a temporary northeasten Moroccan river. Arch Hydrobiol 140:513–531Google Scholar
  39. McKenzie R, Conner B, Bodeker G (1999) Increased summertime UV radiation in New Zealand in response to ozone loss. Science 285:1709–1711PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Neatrour MA, Webster JR, Benfield EF (2004) The role of floods in particulate organic matter dynamics of a southern Appalachian river-floodplain ecosystem. J North Am Benthol Soc 23:198–213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Paetzold A, Schubert CJ, Tockner K (2005) Aquatic-terrestrial linkages along a braided river: riparian arthropods feeding on aquatic insects. Ecosystems 8:748–759CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Paetzold A, Yoshimura C, Tockner K (2008) Riparian arthropod responses to flow regulation and river channelisation. J Appl Ecol 45:894–903CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Petersen RC, Cummins KW (1974) Leaf processing in a woodland stream. Freshw Biol 4:343–368CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Reinfields I, Nanson G (1993) Formation of braided river floodplains, Waimakariri River, New Zealand. Sedimentology 40:1113–1127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Richardson JS (1992) Food, microhabitat, or both? Macroinvertebrate use of leaf accumulations in a montane stream. Freshw Biol 27:169–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Rounick JS, Winterbourn MJ (1983) Leaf processing in two contrasting beech forest streams: effects of physical and biotic factors on litter breakdown. Arch Hydrobiol 96:448–474Google Scholar
  47. Rupp DE, Larned ST, Arscott DB, Schmidt J (2008) Reconstruction of a daily flow record along a hydrologically complex alluvial river. J Hydrol 359:88–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Ryder DS, Horwitz P (1995) Seasonal water regimes and leaf litter processing in a wetland on the Swan Coastal Plain, Western Australia. Mar Freshw Res 46:1077–1084CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Stanley EH, Fisher SG, Grimm NB (1997) Ecosystem expansion and contraction in streams. Bioscience 47:427–435CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Steward AL, Bunn SE, Tockner K, Sheldon F, Choy S (2011) Colonization and use of dry stream beds by terrestrial invertebrates. Aquat Sci (this issue)Google Scholar
  51. Swift MJ, Heal OW, Anderson JM (1979). Decomposition in terrestrial ecosystems. In: Studies of ecology, vol 5. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  52. Takeda H (1995) A 5 year study of litter decomposition processes in a Chamaecyparis obtusa. Endl For Ecol Res 10:95–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Tank JL, Rosi-Marshall EJ, Griffiths NA, Entrekin SA, Stephen ML (2010) A review of allochthonous organic matter dynamics and metabolism in streams. J North Am Benthol Soc. 29:118–146Google Scholar
  54. Taylor CB, Wilson DD, Brown LJ, Stewart MK, Burden RJ, Brailsford GW (1989) Sources and flow of North Canterbury Plains groundwater, New Zealand. J Hydrol 106:311–340CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Tockner K, Malard F, Ward JV (2000) An extension of the flood pulse concept. Hydrol Process 14:2861–2883CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Uetz GW, van der Lahn KL, Summers KL, Gibson PAK, Getz LL (1979) The effects of flooding on floodplain arthropod distribution, abundance and community structure. Am Midl Nat 101:289–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wallace JB, Eggert SL, Meyer JL, Webster JR (1997) Multiple trophic levels of a forest stream linked to terrestrial litter inputs. Science 277:102–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Ward JV, Tockner K, Arscott DB, Claret C (2002) Riverine landscape diversity. Freshw Biol 47:517–539CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Webster JR, Benfield EF, Hutchens JJ, Tank JL, Golladay SW, Adams JC (2001) Do leaf breakdown rates actually measure leaf disappearance from streams? Int Rev Hydrobiol 86:417–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Wishart MJ (2000) The terrestrial invertebrate fauna of a temporary stream in southern Africa. Afr Zool 35:193–200Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Basel AG 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roland Corti
    • 1
  • T. Datry
    • 1
  • L. Drummond
    • 2
  • S. T. Larned
    • 2
  1. 1.Cemagref, UR MALY, Biologie des Ecosystèmes AquatiquesLyonFrance
  2. 2.National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research LtdChristchurchNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations