Leaf Quality of Some Tropical and Temperate Tree Species as Food Resource for Stream Shredders



We tested the hypotheses that (1) plant defenses against consumers increase in the tropics, and that these differences in quality are perceived by detritivores; and (2) microbial conditioning of leaf litter is important for the feeding ecology of shredders from both geographical regions. We compared quality parameters of 8 tree species from Portugal and 8 from Venezuela. The tropical leaves were tougher, but did not differ from temperate leaves in terms of N, C: N, and polyphenols. In multiple-choice experiments, shredders from Portugal (Sericostoma vittatum and Chaetopteryx lusitanica) and from Venezuela (Nectopsyche argentata and Phylloicus priapulus) discriminated among conditioned leaves, preferentially consuming softer leaves. In another set of experiments, all shredders preferentially fed on conditioned rather than unconditioned leaves, grew faster when fed conditioned than unconditioned leaves and fed more on temperate than tropical leaves. We conclude that leaf litter from the tropics is a low-quality resource compared to leaves in temperate systems, because of differences in toughness, and that tropical shredders benefit from microbial colonization, as previously demonstrated for temperate systems. We suggest that leaf toughness could be one explanation for the reported paucity of shredders in some tropical streams. (© 2010 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim)