Breakdown rates and colonisation of leaves from four tree or scrub species differing in quality are studied upstream and downstream of the Canales reservoir, a dam located in the headwater of the River Genii, Sierra Nevada, in southern Spain. This dam, with hypolimnetic release, displays short-term fluctuations of discharge and nutrient enrichment in the tailwater during the study period. Breakdown rates of the four leaf species studied do not differ between sites, despite the higher dissolved nutrient concentration in the tailwater. This lack of differences is attributed to the potentially high physical breakage of leaves during peak flows that are of higher magnitude at the upstream site. The invertebrate density in leaf bags does not differ between sites, and Chironomidae and Ephemeroptera are the numerically dominant taxa at both sites. With regard to functional feeding groups, the scarcity and lack of significant differences between sites for shredders do not match the trend predicted by the Serial Discontinuity Concept in relation to the effect of a headwater dam. Possibly, the discharge fluctuations at both sites causes excessive instability of the natural substrate (leaf litter) for the shredder guild. However, as expected, the biomass of collectors colonising leaf bags is significantly higher at the tailwater, which might be explained not in terms of quantity, but as a consequence of the higher nutritional quality of the fine particulate organic matter (FPOM) accumulated in leaf bags at this site, owing to the eutrophication caused by the dam. Despite the scarcity of functional shredders at both sites, at the community level, the leaf material is significantly more ingested at the upstream site, suggesting the importance of this source of nutrition for the trophic web at this site in contrast with the tailwater, as predicted by the Serial Discontinuity Concept. This also suggests that caution is needed in using functional feeding groups as trophic guilds to infer system-level trophic dynamics in streams, given the prevalence of generalist feeders among benthic macroinvertebrates in these environments. Copyright © 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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