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PLoS One. 2015 Nov 5;10(11):e0142362. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0142362. eCollection 2015.

Diversity of Riparian Plants among and within Species Shapes River Communities.

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Department of Ecology and Evolution, The University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, United States of America.


Organismal diversity among and within species may affect ecosystem function with effects transmitting across ecosystem boundaries. Whether recipient communities adjust their composition, in turn, to maximize their function in response to changes in donor composition at these two scales of diversity is unknown. We use small stream communities that rely on riparian subsidies as a model system. We used leaf pack experiments to ask how variation in plants growing beside streams in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, USA affects stream communities via leaf subsidies. Leaves from red alder (Alnus rubra), vine maple (Acer cinereus), bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) and western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) were assembled in leaf packs to contrast low versus high diversity, and deployed in streams to compare local versus non-local leaf sources at the among and within species scales. Leaves from individuals within species decomposed at varying rates; most notably thin leaves decomposed rapidly. Among deciduous species, vine maple decomposed most rapidly, harbored the least algal abundance, and supported the greatest diversity of aquatic invertebrates, while bigleaf maple was at the opposite extreme for these three metrics. Recipient communities decomposed leaves from local species rapidly: leaves from early successional plants decomposed rapidly in stream reaches surrounded by early successional forest and leaves from later successional plants decomposed rapidly adjacent to later successional forest. The species diversity of leaves inconsistently affected decomposition, algal abundance and invertebrate metrics. Intraspecific diversity of leaf packs also did not affect decomposition or invertebrate diversity. However, locally sourced alder leaves decomposed more rapidly and harbored greater levels of algae than leaves sourced from conspecifics growing in other areas on the Olympic Peninsula, but did not harbor greater aquatic invertebrate diversity. In contrast to alder, local intraspecific differences via decomposition, algal or invertebrate metrics were not observed consistently among maples. These results emphasize that biodiversity of riparian subsidies at the within and across species scale have the potential to affect aquatic ecosystems, although there are complex species-specific effects.

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