Microbial Ecology

, Volume 77, Issue 4, pp 959–966 | Cite as

Litter Quality Modulates Effects of Dissolved Nitrogen on Leaf Decomposition by Stream Microbial Communities

  • Jérémy JabiolEmail author
  • Antoine Lecerf
  • Sylvain Lamothe
  • Mark O. Gessner
  • Eric Chauvet
Environmental Microbiology


Rates of leaf litter decomposition in streams are strongly influenced both by inorganic nutrients dissolved in stream water and by litter traits such as lignin, nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) concentrations. As a result, decomposition rates of different leaf species can show contrasting responses to stream nutrient enrichment resulting from human activities. It is unclear, however, whether the root cause of such discrepancies in field observations is the interspecific variation in either litter nutrient or litter lignin concentrations. To address this question, we conducted a controlled laboratory experiment with a known fungal community to determine decomposition rates of 38 leaf species exhibiting contrasting litter traits (N, P and lignin concentrations), which were exposed to 8 levels of dissolved N concentrations representative of field conditions across European streams (0.07 to 8.96 mg N L−1). The effect of N enrichment on decomposition rate was modelled using Monod kinetics to quantify N effects across litter species. Lignin concentration was the most important litter trait determining decomposition rates and their response to N enrichment. In particular, increasing dissolved N supply from 0.1 to 3.0 mg N L−1 accelerated the decomposition of lignin-poor litter (e.g. < 10% of lignin, 2.9× increase ± 1.4 SD, n = 14) more strongly than that of litter rich in lignin (e.g. > 15% of lignin, 1.4× increase ± 0.2 SD, n = 9). Litter nutrient concentrations were less important, with a slight positive effect of P on decomposition rates and no effect of litter N. These results indicate that shifts in riparian vegetation towards species characterized by high litter lignin concentrations could alleviate the stimulation of C turnover by stream nutrient enrichment.


Litter breakdown Nutrient enrichment Freshwater fungi Litter lignin Michaelis–Menten–Monod kinetics Litter traits 



The authors are grateful to Frédéric Julien and Wendy Amblas for litter CNP analyses.

Funding information

This study is part of the FunctionalStreams project funded by the French National Research Agency (grant ANR-14-CE01-0009-01).

Supplementary material

248_2019_1353_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (131 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 130 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.EcoLab, Université de Toulouse, CNRS, INP, UPSToulouse cedex 9France
  2. 2.LIEC-Laboratoire Interdisciplinaire des Environnements ContinentauxUniversité de Lorraine, UMR 7360MetzFrance
  3. 3.Department of Experimental LimnologyLeibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB)StechlinGermany
  4. 4.Department of EcologyBerlin Institute of Technology (TU Berlin)BerlinGermany

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