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Ecosystem linkages between southern Appalachian headwater streams and their banks: Leaf litter breakdown and invertebrate assemblages

, : Ecosystem linkages between southern Appalachian headwater streams and their banks: Leaf litter breakdown and invertebrate assemblages. Ecosystems 5(1): 80-91, January

We examined red maple (Acer rubrum L.) leaf litter breakdown in streams and riparian zones at two sites in the southern Appalachian Mountains to understand how differences in abiotic and biotic factors influence leaf breakdown rates. Litterbags were placed in three riparian habitats differing in litter layer moisture: stream>bank>upland. Invertebrates colonizing litterbags at one site were also examined to determine how variations in community and functional structure affect breakdown rates. Leaves broke down fastest in streams and slowest in upland habitats, whereas bank habitats were intermediate and characterized by high variability. Faster leaf breakdown rates in streams appeared to be a function of greater moisture availability, a more stable thermal regime, and a higher biomass of leaf-shredding invertebrates, especially the stonefly Tallaperla. In addition, patterns of leaf breakdown and invertebrate community structure provided evidence for a stronger than expected ecological connection between the stream and the bank. Overall, detritus processing within this narrow riparian ecosystem varied considerably depending on the availability of moisture. Results from this study show that stream channel-flood-plain interactions in riparian ecosystems of steep forested mountains are analogous to ones in larger downstream or low-gradient systems. Riparian zones throughout a river network display a remarkable heterogeneity in their ability to process organic matter, which is ultimately driven by changes in hydrological conditions.


DOI: 10.1007/s10021-001-0057-5

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