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Leaf breakdown in an Atlantic Rain Forest stream



The hypothesis of this study was that colonizers in decaying leaf litter prefer native species (Erythrina verna) to exotic ones (Eucalyptus camaldulensis and Protium heptaphyllum). Therefore, native species are expected to show higher breakdown rates, increased biomass, richness and density of invertebrate species, and increased biomass of decomposer fungi. Breakdown of leaf litter from these three species was assessed in an Atlantic Rain Forest stream. Four samples were collected during a period of 90 days and washed on a sieve to separate the invertebrates. Then, a series of leaf disks were cut to determine ash-free dry mass and fungal biomass, and the remaining material was oven-dried to determine the dry weight. Eucalyptus camaldulensis and E. verna showed higher breakdown rates than P. heptaphyllum, due to differences in leaf physical and chemical characteristics. The harder detritus (P. heptaphyllum) broke down more slowly than detritus with high concentrations of labile compounds (E. camaldulensis). The density of the invertebrates associated with detritus increased with time. There were no differences in density, taxonomic richness or biomass of invertebrates among the leaf types, which indicated that the invertebrates did not distinguish between exotic and native detritus. Fungal colonization varied among samples; E. camaldulensis showed the lowest ergosterol concentrations, mainly due to a high concentration of total phenolics. The detritus with the highest hardness value was colonized most slowly by fungi. These results showed that leaf breakdown in Atlantic Rain Forest streams could be affected either by changes in riparian vegetation, or by becoming more savanna-like process due to climate change.