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Keywords:

  • aquatic invertebrates;
  • competition;
  • ecosystem function;
  • environmental stress facilitation;
  • litter decomposition;
  • specific leaf area

Summary

1. The stress-gradient hypothesis (SGH) states that environmental stress modulates species interactions, causing a shift from negative interactions to net positive interactions with increasing stress.

2. Potentially, this modulation of species interactions could in turn influence biodiversity-ecosystem function (B-EF) relationships along stress gradients. Although the SGH has been extensively discussed in plant community ecology in the past two decades, it has received little attention from animal ecologists.

3. To explore whether the SGH could be applied to animal communities, we conducted a litter decomposition experiment with aquatic detritivorous invertebrates in which we manipulated litter quality and measured species interactions along this resource quality gradient. Litter quality was manipulated by presenting detritivores with leaves of plant species varying in specific leaf area and decomposition rate in streams.

4. We found a switch from negative to neutral interactions with increasing resource quality stress, in line with the SGH. However, by re-examining other published results with aquatic detritivores from the perspective of the SGH, we found that a diversity of patterns seem to characterize detritivore interactions along stress gradients.

5. Although the basic pattern proposed by the SGH may not apply to animal systems in general, we show that aquatic detritivore interactions do change along stress gradients, which underlines the importance of incorporating environmental stressors more explicitly in B-EF research.