1. Additions of large wood are being used to restore streams that have been subjected to channelization, wood removal or riparian timber harvest. This added wood potentially increases channel stability, habitat complexity and organic matter retention and improves habitat and productivity of higher trophic levels. However, few stream restorations monitor restoration effectiveness after project completion.
2. We added 25 aspen logs (each 2.5 m length × 0.5 m diameter) to 100-m reaches of each of three forested headwater streams in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, U.S.A. These wood-poor streams drain forests that were completely harvested of timber over a century ago and have been selectively logged for the past 50–60 years. An upstream unmanipulateds 100-m reach in each stream served as the control.
3. We evaluated responses in organic matter processing by measuring red maple leaf decomposition 1 year before and 2 years after wood addition. We also quantified coarse organic matter standing stocks in the main channel and in debris accumulations associated with large wood. In response to wood addition, we predicted both organic matter standing stocks and leaf decomposition rates would increase, thereby enhancing resource availability to higher trophic levels.
4. Leaf decomposition rates did not change following wood addition. Temporal variation in rates among streams was mostly explained by differences in degree days, water velocity, scour/burial and water column inorganic nitrogen concentrations, but not large wood. Variation within streams across years was explained by differences in degree days, water velocity and shredder biomass.
5. Contrary to our prediction, organic matter standing stocks did not increase significantly at the reach scale. However, the experimentally added wood retained c. 4% of total annual coarse benthic organic matter (CBOM) in the first year and an additional c. 15% in the second year, suggesting accumulation over time in the manipulated reaches. The CBOM held by the new logs may be more biologically available because it is less susceptible to burial and transport than material in the streambed.
6. Some shredding macroinvertebrates responded to changes caused by the wood additions. In particular, the common caddisfly shredder, Lepidostoma sp., increased in abundance in leaf bags following wood addition, whereas the biomass of the winter stoneflies, Capniidae, declined in the first year.
7. Considerable funds are spent to restore in-stream habitat, but few restorations are monitored, particularly over long periods (>5 years). Our results show that longer-term monitoring is needed to determine the efficacy of these restorations on ecosystem function; organic matter decomposition in our low-gradient streams did not respond to a substantial increase in large wood after 2 years.
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