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Small reductions in forest cover weaken terrestrial-aquatic linkages in headwater streams


L. E. England, 923 O'Sheridan Street, Madison, WI 53715, U.S.A. E-mail:


1. We assessed the impacts of deforestation on the energy base of headwater food webs in seven headwater streams in the Upper Chattahoochee basin, GA, U.S.A where percentage forest in catchments ranged from 82 to 96%. We measured terrestrial organic matter standing crop and determined consumer (crayfish and insectivorous fish) dependence on terrestrial versus aquatic energy sources via gut content and stable isotope analyses.

2. Standing crop of coarse particulate organic matter (CPOM) declined with deforestation at large scales (i.e. catchment deforestation and riparian deforestation at the entire stream network scale). Terrestrial plant matter, the dominant component of crayfish guts, declined in crayfish guts with reductions in CPOM standing crop and with deforestation.

3. Crayfish and insectivorous fish δ13C showed enrichment trends with deforestation, indicating isotopic divergence from CPOM, the most 13C-depleted basal resource, with reductions in catchment and riparian forest cover. Crayfish δ13C also exhibited enrichment with decreased instream CPOM standing crop.

4. A concentration-dependent mixing model was used to calculate the relative dependence of crayfish and fish on terrestrial versus aquatic basal resources. Results suggested that both allochthonous CPOM and autochthonous production were important basal resources. Consumer dependence on CPOM decreased with reductions in canopy cover.

5. Our data suggest the importance of forest cover to headwater food webs at multiple scales, and that relatively low levels of riparian deforestation along headwater streams can lead to reductions in stream food web dependence on terrestrial subsidies.