Mitigation or disturbance? Effects of liming on macroinvertebrate assemblage structure and leaf-litter decomposition in the humic streams of northern Sweden


Dr Brendan McKie, Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, Umeå University, SE-901 87, Umeå, Sweden (fax +46 90 7866705; e-mail


  • 1Stream liming can alleviate the effects of anthropogenic acidification but itself constitutes a substantial ecosystem-level perturbation. Acidity in the humic streams of northern Sweden largely arises from natural causes but liming is extensively practised, with uncertain ecological outcomes.
  • 2We investigated macroinvertebrate assemblage structure and leaf-litter decomposition in seven humic Swedish streams, each of which is limed at a single point using a dosing tower. Grey alder Alnus incana leaves were enclosed in replicate fine (mesh size 0·5 mm) and coarse (10 mm) mesh bags at three locations in each stream: upstream of the dosing tower, in the transitional ‘mixing zone’ immediately downstream of the tower, and at a site further downstream where the lime powder is completely dissolved, with marked changes to water chemistry. Benthic macroinvertebrate assemblages were characterized from each site via five replicate Surber samples.
  • 3Alkalinity, pH, conductivity and calcium (Ca) concentrations increased following liming, whereas dissolved organic carbon and aluminium concentrations decreased.
  • 4Decomposition in fine mesh bags, primarily mediated by microbes, was positively associated with pH and Ca and was significantly elevated by liming, probably attributable to stimulation of fungal pectin-degrading enzymes that require Ca as a cofactor.
  • 5Decomposition attributable to detritivorous insects (shredders), assessed by subtracting decomposition observed in fine mesh bags from that observed in coarse bags, was reduced following liming, in concert with changes to shredder assemblages. Abundance of large caddisfly shredders declined in limed stream sections, whereas some smaller stoneflies increased in number. Shredder diversity declined following liming during spring. Species evenness fell overall, and richness was reduced in four of six streams.
  • 6Synthesis and applications. Water chemistry changes following stream liming in northern Sweden appear to overcompensate for the limited acid deposition observed in the region, with important ecosystem consequences. The potential deleterious impacts of liming need to be balanced against its desired outcomes in regions where acidity is largely attributable to natural causes.