Comparisons of the effects of leaf litter chemistry on leaf breakdown rates in tropical vs temperate streams are hindered by incompatibility among studies and across sites of analytical methods used to measure leaf chemistry. We used standardized analytical techniques to measure chemistry and breakdown rate of leaves from common riparian tree species at 2 sites, 1 tropical and 1 temperate, where a relatively large amount of information is available on litter chemistry and breakdown rates in streams (La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica, and Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory, North Carolina, USA). We selected 8 common riparian tree species from La Selva and 7 from Coweeta that spanned the range of chemistries of leaf litter naturally entering streams at each site. We predicted that concentrations of secondary compounds would be higher in the tropical species than in the temperate species and that high concentrations of condensed tannins would decrease breakdown rates in both sites. Contrary to our predictions, mean concentration of condensed tannins was significantly greater (2.6×, p < 0.001) for species at Coweeta than for species at La Selva. Concentration of condensed tannins was negatively correlated with breakdown rate among Coweeta species (r = −0.80), not among La Selva species, and negatively correlated when the 2 sites were combined (r = −0.53). Concentrations of structural compounds were strongly correlated with breakdown rate at both sites (Coweeta species, lignin r = −0.94, cellulose r = −0.77; La Selva species, cellulose r = −0.78, C r = −0.73). The chemistries of 8 riparian species from La Selva and 7 riparian species from Coweeta were not as different as expected. Our results underline the importance of standardized analytical techniques when making cross-site comparisons of leaf chemistry.
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Vol. 28 • No. 2