Temperature and substrate chemistry as major drivers of interregional variability of leaf microbial decomposition and cellulolytic activity in headwater streams

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Abstract

Abiotic factors, substrate chemistry and decomposers community composition are primary drivers of leaf litter decomposition. In soil, much of the variation in litter decomposition is explained by climate and substrate chemistry, but with a significant contribution of the specialisation of decomposer communities to degrade specific substrates (home-field advantage, HFA). In streams, however, HFA effects on litter decomposition have not been explicitly tested. We evaluated responses of microbial decomposition and β-glucosidase activity to abiotic factors, substrate and decomposer assemblages, using a reciprocal litter transplant experiment: ‘ecosystem type’ (mountain vs lowland streams) × ‘litter chemistry’ (alder vs reed). Temperature, pH and ionic concentration were higher in lowland streams. Decomposition for both species was faster in lowland streams. Decomposition of reed was more accelerated in lowland compared with mountain streams than that of alder, suggesting higher temperature sensitivity of decomposition in reed. Q10 (5°C–15°C) values of β-glucosidase activity were over 2. The alkaline pH and high ionic concentration of lowland streams depleted enzyme activity. We found similar relationships of decomposition or enzyme activity with abiotic factors for both species, suggesting limited support to the HFA hypothesis. Overall, our results suggest a prime role of temperature interacting with substrate chemistry on litter decomposition.

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