The influence of different litter bag designs on the breakdown of leaf material in a small mountain stream

Research paper by B. A. Stewart, B. R. Davies

Indexed on: 01 Oct '89Published on: 01 Oct '89Published in: Hydrobiologia


Leaf breakdown of two riparian tree species, Cunonia capensis L. and Ilex mitis (L.) Radlk. was investigated in vitro at Window Stream, Table Mountain, using three different designs of litter bag. Breakdown of Cunonia and Ilex in coarse-mesh (5 mm) litter bags was very rapid (respectively 14.79 and 13.93% loss d−1), and was significantly greater than the loss of leaf material of 1% d−1 for both species from fine-mesh bags (180 µm). Differences recorded between fine-mesh and composite-mesh bags (180 µm mesh with 5 mm mesh top) represented macro-invertebrate ingestion, and at t = 28 d, amounted to 67.57% material loss in Cunonia and 62.58% in Ilex. The losses due to microbial activity and leaching, 31.28% in Cunonia and 29.17% in Ilex were not significantly different. Weight loss of Cunonia in coarse-mesh bags (14.79% loss d−1) and in composite-mesh bags (13.93% loss d−1) did not differ, but this was not the case for Ilex, where a significantly higher rate of loss in coarse-mesh bags (13.93% loss d−1) than in composite-mesh bags (7.69% loss d−1) was observed. This difference was used to quantify fragmentation losses. It was concluded that future leaf breakdown experiments in mountain streams must take cognisance of differential fragmentation losses before inferences can be made as to both invertebrate feeding preferences and biological decomposition of leaves.