Role of transported particulate organic matter in the macroinvertebrate colonization of litter bags in streams

  • Dangles O
  • Guerold F
  • Usseglio-Polatera P
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1. The exposure of mesh litter bags has been widely used to investigate the role of benthic macroinvertebrates in leaf processing in freshwaters. In this sense, several studies have related litter bag breakdown rates to the presence of colonizing invertebrates. A possible confounding factor in such experiments is that the litter bags trap suspended particulate organic matter that can itself attract invertebrate colonists, irrespective of the intended experimental treatment. 2. We attempted to quantify the accumulation of particulate organic matter (POM) within litter bags and to investigate its possible impact on macroinvertebrate density and richness. In seven headwater forested streams we exposed mesh bags �lled either with beech leaves (Fagus sylvatica) or with plastic strips of an equal surface area. 3. Principal component analysis (PCA) showed that bag type and stream were the main explanatory variables for invertebrate colonization and POM accumulation within the bags. In contrast, there was little variation among sampling dates (6.4%of the total inertia). 4. The accumulated POM within the bags was substantial (up to 8.83 g ash-free dry mass (AFDM)) but highly variable among sites (mean from 0.32 to 4.58 g AFDM). At each of the seven sites, both richness and abundance of invertebrates were positively correlated with the mass of accumulated POM in bags. Macroinvertebrate colonization (notably taxon richness) was directly linked with the quantity of POM accumulated. 5. Our �ndings provide evidence of a potential pitfall in linking invertebrates to litter processing in mesh bags, particularly when large amounts of POM, entrained in stream Oow, accumulate within the bags. An evaluation of the POM mass trapped in litter bags could account for the erratic patterns sometimes observed in their colonization by invertebrates.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Colonization
  • Headwater streams
  • Litter bags
  • Macroinvertebrates
  • Organic matter

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  • Olivier Dangles

  • François Guerold

  • Philippe Usseglio-Polatera

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