Leaf litter inputs and retention play an important role in ecosystem functioning in forested streams. We examined colonization of leaves by microbes (bacteria, fungi, and protozoa) and fauna in Fuirosos, an intermittent forested Mediterranean stream. Black poplar (Populus nigra) and plane (Platanus acerifolia) leaf packs were placed in the stream for 4 mo. We measured the biomasses and calculated the densities of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, meiofauna, and macroinvertebrates to determine their dynamics and potential interactions throughout the colonization process. Colonization was strongly correlated with hydrological variability (defined mainly by water temperature and discharge). The 1st week of colonization was characterized by hydrological stability and warm water temperatures, and allocation of C from microbial to invertebrate compartments on the leaf packs was rapid. Clumps of fine particulate organic matter (FPOM) were retained by the leaf packs, and enhanced rapid colonization by microfauna and meiofaunal collector-gatherers (ostracods and copepods). After 2 wk, an autumnal flood caused a 20-fold increase in water flow. Higher discharge and lower water temperature caused FPOM-related fauna to drift away from the packs and modified the subsequent colonization sequence. Fungi showed the highest biomass, with similar values to those recorded at the beginning of the experiment. After 70 d of postflood colonization, fungi decreased to nearly 40% of the total C in the leaf packs, whereas invertebrates became more abundant and accounted for 60% of the C. Natural flood occurrence in Mediterranean streams could be a key factor in the colonization and processing of organic matter.
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