Leaves are an important food source for organisms living in streams. When leaves fall into streams fungi and bacteria begin to break them down, making them a good food source for insects and fish. Although hundreds of studies show that leaves from different plant species decompose at different rates, the consequences of these differences are not well understood. This project tests if differences among riparian plant species affect pathways of energy flow in stream food webs, with consequences for microbial diversity and transfer of nutrients to insects and fish. In particular, the investigators will test the non-intuitive hypothesis that leaves that decompose more slowly provide a better food source to organisms higher in the food web than quickly decomposing leaves. This work will advance the field by providing a framework for predicting how variation in plants living on stream banks affects major energy pathways in stream food webs.
This research is important for managing and restoring streams. Managers spend millions of dollars each year re-vegetating riparian zones but need better information on what to plant and how different trees will affect the health and functioning of streams. This study will provide the information needed to fill this knowledge gap.