Temperate headwater streams with closed canopies rely on inputs of terrestrially derived organic matter to provide the major energy basis for their food webs. Microbial colonization, or conditioning, makes leaf litter more nutritional and palatable to stream detritivores, but few studies have investigated the relative importance of litter source to macroshredders in tropical streams. We determined the source (terrestrial, aquatic, or aerial), quantity, and species composition of allochthonous inputs into the Quebrada Prieta, a tropical headwater stream in Puerto Rico, as a first step toward understanding the importance of conditioning history to rates of tropical leaf-litter processing by decapod consumers. Fresh leaves of 4 common species of leaves were treated by exposing them to different conditions for 2 wk. These exposure treatments (conditioning histories) represented routes by which leaves might enter streams and included submersion (aquatic input), incubation on the streambank soil (terrestrial input), and suspension above the ground (aerial input). Conditioned leaves were placed in small experimental microcosms with or without shrimp (Xiphocariselongata) for 20 d. Shrimp significantly increased the rate of decomposition of all leaf species independent of conditioning history. Conditioning history had little effect on breakdown rates independent of the presence of shrimp. One species (Roureasurinamensis) had faster mass loss when the leaves were conditioned as aquatic inputs rather than as terrestrial or aerial inputs. Our results indicate that conditioning history has little effect on the ability of some macroconsumers to alter detrital foodweb dynamics in tropical streams. Tropical stream ecosystems may function differently from temperate ecosystems because of the dominance of large detritivores such as shrimps.
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