Decomposition of Eucalyptus globulus leaves and three native leaf species (Alnus glutinosa, Castanea sativa and Quercus faginea) in a Portuguese low order stream

Research paper by Cristina Canhoto, Manuel A. S. Graça

Indexed on: 01 Oct '96Published on: 01 Oct '96Published in: Hydrobiologia


Leaf decomposition of the exotic evergreen Eucalyptus globulus (eucalyptus), and three native deciduous tree species, Alnus glutinosa (alder), Castanea sativa (chestnut) and Quercus faginea (oak), was compared in a second order stream in Central Portugal. Changes in dry weight, nitrogen and polyphenolic compounds and microbial colonization were periodically assessed for three months.Negative exponential curves fit the leaf weight loss with time for all leaf species. Mass loss rate was in the order alder (K = 0.0161) > chestnut (K = 0.0079) > eucalyptus (K = 0.0068) > oak (K = 0.0037). Microbial colonization followed the same pattern as breakdown rates. Evidence of fungal colonization was observed in alder after 3 days in the stream, whereas it took 21 days in oak leaves to have fungal colonization. Fungal diversity was leaf species-dependent and increased with time. In all cases, percent nitrogen per unit leaf weight increased, at least, at the initial stages of decay while soluble polyphenolics (expressed as percentage per unit leaf weight) decreased rapidly in the first month of leaves immersion.Intrinsic factors such as nitrogen and polyphenolic content may explain differences in leaf decomposition. The possible incorporation of eucalyptus litter into secondary production in a reasonable time span is suggested, although community balance and structure might be affected by differences in allochthonous patterns determined by eucalyptus monocultures.