Do tadpoles affect leaf decomposition in neotropical streams?

  • Connelly S
  • Pringle C
  • Whiles M
 et al. 
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1. Of the relatively few studies that have examined consequences of amphibian declines on stream ecosystems, virtually all have focused on changes in algae (or algal-based food webs) and little is known about the potential effects of tadpoles on leaf decomposition. We compared leaf litter decomposition dynamics in two neotropical streams: one with an intact community of tadpoles (with frogs) and one where tadpoles were absent (frogless) as a result of a fungal pathogen that had driven amphibians locally extinct. The stream with tadpoles contained a diverse assemblage (23 species) of larval anurans, and we identified five species of glass frog (Centrolenidae) tadpoles that were patchily distributed but commonly associated with leaf detritus and organic sediments in pools. The latter reached total densities of 0-318 tadpoles m(-2). 2. We experimentally excluded tadpoles from single-species leaf packs incubated over a 40-day period in streams with and without frogs. We predicted that decomposition rates would be higher in control (allowing access of tadpoles) treatments in the study stream with frogs than in the frogless stream and, in the stream with frogs, in the control than in the tadpole exclusion treatment. 3. In the stream with frogs, Centrolene prosoblepon and Cochranella albomaculata tadpoles were patchily distributed in leaf packs (0.0-33.3 m(-2)). In contrast to our predictions, leaf mass loss and temperature-corrected leaf decomposition rates in control treatments were almost identical in our stream with frogs (41.01% AFDM lost, k(degree) day = -0.028 day(-1)) and in the frogless stream (41.81% AFDM lost, k(degree) day = -0.027 day(-1)) and between control and tadpole exclusion treatments within each stream. Similarly, there were no significant differences in leaf pack bacterial biomass, microbial respiration rates or macroinvertebrate abundance between treatments or streams. Invertebrate assemblages on leaf packs were similar between treatments (SIMI = 0.97) and streams (SIMI = 0.95) and were dominated by larval Chironomidae, Simuliidae (Diptera) and larval Anchytarsus spp. (Coleoptera). 4. In contrast to dramatic effects of grazing tadpoles on algal communities observed previously, tadpoles had no major effects on decomposition. While centrolenid tadpoles were common in the stream with frogs, their patchy distribution in both experimental and natural leaf packs suggests that their effects on detrital dynamics and microbes are probably more localised than those of grazing tadpoles on algae.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Centrolenidae
  • Decomposition
  • Fungal biomass
  • Glass frogs
  • Neotropical streams
  • Tadpoles

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  • Scott Connelly

  • Catherine M. Pringle

  • Matt R. Whiles

  • Karen R. Lips

  • Susan Kilham

  • Roberto Brenes

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