Effects of drying regime on microbial colonization and shredder preference in seasonal woodland wetlands
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Inkley, Martin D.
Wissinger, Scott A.
Baros, Brandi L.
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1. Energy budgets of wetlands in temperate deciduous forests are dominated by terrestrially derived leaf litter that decays under different drying conditions depending on autumn precipitation. We compared decay rates and microbial colonization of maple leaves under different inundation schedules in a field experiment, and then conducted a laboratory study on shredder preference. In the field, litter bags either remained submerged (permanent), were moved to a dried part of the basin once and then returned (semi-permanent), or were alternated between wet and dry conditions for 8 weeks (temporary). 2. There was no difference in decay rates among treatments, but leaves incubated under permanent and semi-permanent conditions had higher fungal and bacterial biomass, and lower C : N ratios than those incubated under alternating drying and wetting conditions. 3. To determine the effects of these differences in litter nutritional quality on shredder preference, we conducted a laboratory preference test with larvae of leaf-shredding caddisflies that inhabit the wetland. Caddisflies spent twice as much time foraging on permanent and semi-permanent litter than on litter incubated under temporary conditions. 4. There is considerable variation among previous studies in how basin drying affects litter breakdown in wetlands, and no previous information on shredder preference. We found that frequent drying in a shallow wetland reduces the nutritional quality of leaf litter (lower microbial biomass and nitrogen content), and therefore preference by invertebrate shredders. These results suggest that inter-annual shifts in drying regime should alter detritus processing rates, and hence the mobilization of the energy and nutrients in leaf litter to the wetland food web.