In-stream litter decomposition along an altitudinal gradient: does substrate quality matter?

Research paper by Aingeru Martínez, Silvia Monroy, Javier Pérez, Aitor Larrañaga, Ana Basaguren, Jon Molinero, Jesús Pozo

Indexed on: 09 Aug '15Published on: 09 Aug '15Published in: Hydrobiologia


In temperate streams, water temperature and organic matter inputs from surrounding forest vary along the altitude. We tested if the different features of streams of similar size determined by an altitudinal gradient might differentially affect the processing rate of different quality leaves (alder, oak and beech). To distinguish the relative contribution of microbial decomposition from overall decomposition, fine- and coarse-mesh bags were used. We determined decomposition rates, leaf-N and -P concentration, microbial respiration (fine bags), invertebrate colonisation (coarse bags) and density and identity of benthic invertebrates in three second-order streams. Alder decomposed faster than the other species in all three streams and regardless of mesh size due to its lower values of C:N, C:P and N:P. Unexpectedly, microbial decomposition rate did not vary among streams for any of the leaf species. The total decomposition rate of alder and oak showed a negative trend along the altitudinal gradient, the magnitude of the change in decomposition rates being similar for both species. The density and structure of the invertebrate community differed along the altitudinal gradient, related to temperature and surrounding vegetation, determining the decomposition rate. Unexpectedly, sensitivity of decomposition rate of different quality leaves to temperature does not differ along the gradient.