Effects of subsidy quality on reciprocal subsidies: how leaf litter species changes frog biomass export

Abstract

Spatial subsidies are resources transferred from one ecosystem to another and which can greatly affect recipient systems. Increased subsidy quantity is known to increase these effects, but subsidy quality is likely also important. We examined the effects of leaf litter quality (varying in nutrient and tannin content) in pond mesocosms on gray treefrog (Hyla versicolor) biomass export, as well as water quality and ecosystem processes. We used litter from three different tree species native to Missouri [white oak (Quercus alba), northern red oak (Quercus rubra), and sugar maple (Acer saccharum)], one non-native tree [white pine (Pinus strobus)], and a common aquatic grass [prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata)]. We found that leaf litter species affected almost every variable we measured. Gray treefrog biomass export was greatest in mesocosms with grass litter and lowest with white oak litter. Differences in biomass export were affected by high tannin concentrations (or possibly the correlated variable, dissolved oxygen) via their effects on survival, and by primary production, which altered mean body mass. Effects of litter species could often be traced back to the characteristics of the litter itself: leaf nitrogen, phosphorus, and tannin content, which highlights the importance of plant functional traits in affecting aquatic ecosystems. This work and others stress that changes in forest species composition could greatly influence aquatic systems and aquatic–terrestrial linkages.

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Acknowledgments

We thank B. Sonderman for help at research park, J. Fairchild, S. Olson, and L. Johnson for assistance with chemical analyses. Funding was provided by the Life Sciences Fellowship (J.E. Earl), the TWA Scholarship (J.E. Earl), the MU Conservation Biology Fellowship (J.E. Earl), an US EPA STAR Fellowship (J.E. Earl) and the National Science Foundation Undergraduate Mentoring in Environmental Biology program (C. Galen, C. Nilon). This work was partially conducted while a Postdoctoral Fellow (J.E. Earl) at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, an Institute sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Homeland Security, and the US Department of Agriculture through NSF Award #EF-0832858, with additional support from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Research was conducted using Missouri Department of Conservation Wildlife Collecting Permit #13759 and under MU Animal Care Protocol #3368.

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Correspondence to Julia E. Earl.

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Communicated by Ross Andrew Alford.

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Earl, J.E., Castello, P.O., Cohagen, K.E. et al. Effects of subsidy quality on reciprocal subsidies: how leaf litter species changes frog biomass export. Oecologia 175, 209–218 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-013-2870-x

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Keywords

  • Leaf litter
  • Tannins
  • Allochthonous
  • Detritus
  • Amphibian larvae