An invasive riparian tree reduces stream ecosystem efficiency via a recalcitrant organic matter subsidy


  • Corresponding Editor: W. V. Sobczak.


A disturbance, such as species invasion, can alter the exchange of materials and organisms between ecosystems, with potential consequences for the function of both ecosystems. Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) is an exotic tree invading riparian corridors in the western United States, and may alter stream organic matter budgets by increasing allochthonous litter and by reducing light via shading, in turn decreasing in-stream primary production. We used a before-after invasion comparison spanning 35 years to show that Russian olive invasion increased allochthonous litter nearly 25-fold to an invaded vs. a control reach of a stream, and we found that this litter decayed more slowly than native willow. Despite a mean 50% increase in canopy cover by Russian olive and associated shading, there were no significant changes in gross primary production. Benthic organic matter storage increased fourfold after Russian olive invasion compared to pre-invasion conditions, but there were no associated changes in stream ecosystem respiration or organic matter export. Thus, estimated stream ecosystem efficiency (ratio of ecosystem respiration to organic matter input) decreased 14%. These findings show that invasions of nonnative plant species in terrestrial habitats can alter resource fluxes to streams with consequences for whole-ecosystem functions.