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Keywords:

  • extracellular enzymes;
  • microbial community structure;
  • organic matter quality;
  • plant litter;
  • riparian succession;
  • stream sediment

Abstract

Successional changes of terrestrial vegetation can profoundly influence stream ecosystem structure and function. We hypothesized that microbial enzyme production and community structure in stream beds depend on terrestrial litter inputs that reflect different stages of riparian succession. Outdoor experimental channels were supplied with leaf-litter of varying quantities and qualities to mimic litter supply during five successional stages: (1) an initial biofilm stage; (2) an open-land stage with grass litter; (3) a transitional stage with mixed grass and birch litter; (4) an early forest stage with birch litter; and (5) an advanced forest stage with 2.5 × the amount of birch litter. Mean potential activities of nitrogen- and phosphorus-acquiring enzymes in sediments (20.7 and 67.3 μmol g−1 dry mass) were 12–70 times greater than those of carbon-acquiring enzymes (0.96–1.71 μmol g−1 dry mass), with the former reduced 1.3–8.3-fold in channels with tree litter. These patterns could suggest gradually diminishing nutrient limitation of microbial activity during riparian succession, potentially linked both to an increasing supply by the added litter and to a lower nutrient demand as algal biomass and labile carbon supply by photosynthetic exudates declined. As the observed shifts in nutrient-acquiring enzymes were reflected in changes of sediment microbial communities, these results indicate that both the type and density of terrestrial vegetation control microbial community structure and function in stream sediments, particularly enzyme production related to nutrient cycling.