Leaf Decomposition in an Extremely Acidic River of Volcanic Origin in Indonesia

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Abstract

Functional processes in freshwater ecosystems are highly influenced by acidic conditions. Foodwebs are affected and macroinvertebrate species diversity is decreased. This study aims to investigate leaf decomposition at very low pH in the acidic Banyupahit-Banyuputih river originating from the acidic crater lake Kawah Ijen in Indonesia. Leaf decomposition experiments were carried out for 200 days in the acidic river at pHs of approximately 0.7, 2.3 and 3.0 and in the neutral Kali Sengon river, using leaves from teak, Tectona grandis, and bamboo, Bambusa sp. Two different types of leaf packs were used: fine mesh size packs were used to exclude macroinvertebrates and coarse mesh size packs allowed macroinvertebrate colonization. Clear differences in decomposition rate were observed between the neutral Kali Sengon and the acidic Banyupahit-Banyuputih river with decomposition in the Kali Sengon river proceeding significantly faster for both leaf types. In the Kali Sengon k values (d-1) over 46 days were 0.0202 for fine teak, 0.0236 for coarse teak, 0.0114 for fine bamboo and 0.0151 for coarse bamboo. No significant differences were observed between the three sites in the acidic Banyupahit-Banyuputih river with k values of 0.0034-0.0066 for fine teak, 0.0002-0.0057 for coarse teak, 0.0029-0.0054 for fine bamboo and 0.0000-0.0068 for coarse bamboo. Moreover, no clear adaptation of macroinvertebrates or microbes to low pH conditions could be detected. The coarse mesh leaf packs in the neutral Kali Sengon river revealed that macroinvertebrates are important in the breakdown process. Fine mesh packs revealed that microbial activity is depressed under acidic conditions. Based on this evidence, we conclude that the toxicity at low pH conditions, and probably also the precipitation of metals on the leaf material, seriously affects leaf decomposition.

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