Invasive Salix fragilis alters benthic invertebrate communities and litter decomposition in northern Patagonian streams

Research paper by María Noel Serra, Ricardo Albariño, Verónica Díaz Villanueva

Indexed on: 21 Aug '12Published on: 21 Aug '12Published in: Hydrobiologia


Invasion by exotic trees into riparian areas has the potential to impact aquatic systems. We examined the effects of the exotic Salix fragilis (crack willow) on the structure and functioning of small streams in northern Patagonian Andes via a field survey of benthic invertebrates and leaf litter and an in situ experiment. We compared leaf decomposition of the native Ochetophila trinervis (chacay) and S. fragilis in reaches dominated by native vegetation versus reaches dominated by crack willow. We hypothesized that S. fragilis affects the quality of leaf litter entering the streams, changing the aquatic biota composition and litter decomposition. Our study showed that crack willow leaves decomposed slower than chacay, likely related to leaf properties (i.e., leaf toughness). Benthic leaf litter mass was similar between the two riparian vegetation types, though in stream reaches dominated by crack willow, leaves of this species represented 82% of the total leaf litter. Benthic invertebrate abundance and diversity were similar between reaches but species composition differed. Our study found little evidence for strong impacts of crack willow on those small streams. Further studies on other aspects of ecosystem functioning, such as primary production, would enhance our understanding of the impacts of crack willow on Patagonian streams.