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1 March 2011 Breakdown rates, nutrient concentrations, and macroinvertebrate colonization of bluejoint grass litter in headwater streams of the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
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Grass litter can be a dominant detritus type in many streams. However, use of this C source in stream food webs often is viewed as insignificant because of its relatively slow breakdown rates and low nutritional quality. We deployed leaf packs containing senesced bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis) across a natural nutrient gradient of 6 salmon-rearing headwater streams on the lower Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. We hypothesized that litter-colonizing microbes would use dissolved stream nutrients and enhance breakdown rates, litter nutrient concentrations, and densities of macroinvertebrates across streams. Leaf-pack mass and nutrient concentrations were measured on the material at 0 (predeployment), 2, 4, 6, and 8 wk in all streams. Breakdown rates were calculated from the mass measurements with an exponential decay model. Macroinvertebrate composition and abundance were measured at 8 wk in all streams and every 2 wk in 1 stream. Breakdown rates of bluejoint litter were relatively low (20–30% mass loss over 2 mo), but similar to rates found in previous studies of senesced grass litter. Weighted regressions showed that bluejoint breakdown rates in the 6 streams were significantly (p < 0.05) related to dissolved stream nutrient concentrations (r2  =  0.94 and 0.67 for dissolved inorganic N and PO4-P, respectively), litter nutrient concentration (r2  =  0.72 and 0.96 for leaf % N and % P, respectively), total macroinvertebrates/g (r2  =  0.73), and nonmetric multidimensional scaling-axis-1 scores of macroinvertebrate community structure (r2  =  0.80). Litter nutrients changed after just 2 wk and were increasingly and significantly related to stream nutrient concentrations over time. NMS ordination showed that succession of macroinvertebrates on leaf packs from one stream followed a distinct direction over time, and a large shift in macroinvertebrate community structure occurred between weeks 6 and 8, a result potentially indicating a consumer response to microbial conditioning. The abundance and diversity of macroinvertebrate taxa using bluejoint litter provide evidence that it is an important habitat and energy pathway for consumers in headwater streams of the Kenai Peninsula. In addition, climate change has the potential to change terrestrial vegetation assemblages, which drive differences in stream nutrient concentrations in this region. If N-fixing shrubs become more abundant in the future, litter-decomposition rates will be positively affected by increases in both stream and leaf-litter nutrient concentrations.

Rebecca S. Shaftel, Ryan S. King, and Jeffrey A. Back "Breakdown rates, nutrient concentrations, and macroinvertebrate colonization of bluejoint grass litter in headwater streams of the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska," Journal of the North American Benthological Society 30(2), 386-398, (1 March 2011).
Received: 22 June 2010; Accepted: 1 December 2010; Published: 1 March 2011

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