Indexed on: 29 Jun '16Published on: 28 Jun '16Published in: Aquatic Ecology
Small forest streams and their riparian vegetation are closely linked ecosystems. Stream consumers obtain most of their energy from leaf litter provided by the terrestrial vegetation. Thus, understanding the relationship between riparian vegetation, aquatic communities and litter decomposition may help explaining the variability in aquatic communities and processes among non-impacted streams, and anticipate their responses to anthropogenic-induced changes in the riparian vegetation. We surveyed 10 small non-impacted forest streams in central Portugal for riparian vegetation (species richness), benthic litter (species richness and biomass), aquatic hyphomycete conidia in transport (species richness and conidia concentration) and macroinvertebrates associated with benthic litter (taxon richness, density and biomass), during the litter fall peak. We found significant correlations between (a) aquatic communities and riparian vegetation species richness, (b) aquatic communities and benthic litter species richness and biomass and (c) within aquatic communities. Oak litter decomposition rates (from a previous experiment on the same streams) were also correlated with riparian tree species richness. This survey showed that spatial variability in riparian vegetation, benthic litter, aquatic communities and litter decomposition can be high even within a relatively small area, and allowed the identification of complex interactions between these components of the aquatic detrital food web. The positive correlation between aquatic hyphomycete species richness, macroinvertebrate taxon richness, litter decomposition and riparian tree species richness suggests that anthropogenic-induced decreases in riparian species richness may affect aquatic communities and processes. Surveys over streams naturally differing in environmental conditions may allow forecasting the response of aquatic communities and processes to anthropogenic activities.