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Leaf litter breakdown budgets in streams of various trophic status: effects of dissolved inorganic nutrients on microorganisms and invertebrates


Jean-Yves Charcosset, CNRS-LADYBIO, 29 rue Jeanne-Marvig, 31055 Toulouse Cedex, France.


1. We investigated the effect of trophic status on the organic matter budget in freshwater ecosystems. During leaf litter breakdown, the relative contribution of the functional groups and the quantity/quality of organic matter available to higher trophic levels are expected to be modified by the anthropogenic release of nutrients.

2. Carbon budgets were established during the breakdown of alder leaves enclosed in coarse mesh bags and submerged in six streams: two oligotrophic, one mesotrophic, two eutrophic and one hypertrophic streams. Nitrate concentrations were 4.5–6.7 mg L−1 and the trophic status of each stream was defined by the soluble reactive phosphorus concentration ranging from 3.4 (oligotrophic) to 89 μg L−1 (hypertrophic). An ammonium gradient paralleled the phosphate gradient with mean concentrations ranging from 1.4 to 560 μg L−1 NH4-N. The corresponding unionised ammonia concentrations ranged from 0.08 to 19 μg L−1 NH3-N over the six streams.

3. The dominant shredder taxa were different in the oligo-, meso- and eutrophic streams. No shredders were observed in the hypertrophic stream. These changes may be accounted for by the gradual increase in the concentration of ammonia over the six streams. The shredder biomass dramatically decreased in eu- and hypertrophic streams compared with oligo- and mesotrophic.

4. Fungal biomass increased threefold from the most oligotrophic to the less eutrophic stream and decreased in the most eutrophic and the hypertrophic. Bacterial biomass increased twofold from the most oligotrophic to the hypertrophic stream. Along the trophic gradient, the microbial CO2 production followed that of microbial biomass whereas the microbial fine particulate organic matter and net dissolved organic carbon (DOC) did not consistently vary. These results indicate that the microorganisms utilised the substrate and the DOC differently in streams of various trophic statuses.

5. In streams receiving various anthropogenic inputs, the relative contribution of the functional groups to leaf mass loss varied extensively as a result of stimulation and the deleterious effects of dissolved inorganic compounds. The quality/quantity of the organic matter produced by microorganisms slightly varied, as they use DOC from stream water instead of the substrate they decompose in streams of higher trophic status.

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