SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Keywords:

  • Detritus;
  • environmental context;
  • leaf litter;
  • organic enrichment;
  • spatial subsidy

Abstract

Many aquatic ecosystems are sustained by detrital subsidies of leaf litter derived from exogenous sources. Although numerous studies have examined the effects of litter species richness and identity on decomposition processes, it remains unclear how these effects extend to associated invertebrate communities or how these effects vary spatially according to local environmental context. Using field enrichment experiments, we assessed how the species richness, assemblage composition, and supply of detrital litter resources interact to affect benthic communities of three temperate Australian estuarine mudflats. Our experiments utilized eight litter sources that are presently experiencing human-mediated changes in their supply to estuarine mudflats. Contrary to predictions, we did not detect effects of the species richness of detrital mixtures on benthic communities. Macroinvertebrate community structure and, in particular, abundance were, instead, influenced by the assemblage composition of detrital mixtures. At two of the three sites, plots receiving the most labile detrital mix, containing the ephemeral algae Chaetomorpha and Ulva, supported the fewest macroinvertebrates of all the experimental enrichments. The large effect of detrital mix identity on macroinvertebrate communities is of concern given present trends of proliferation of macroalgae at the expense of more refractory seagrasses and marsh grasses. As such environmental degradation continues, it will be important to more fully understand under what environmental contexts such compositional changes in detrital resources will have the most detrimental effects on important prey resources for commercially important fish and wading shorebirds.