Decomposition of terrestrial resource subsidies in headwater streams: Does consumer diversity matter?

David Stoker, University of Georgia
Amber J. Falkner, University of Georgia
Kelly M. Murray, University of Georgia
Ashley K. Lang, University of Georgia



Resource subsidies and biodiversity are essential for maintaining community structure and ecosystem functioning, but the relative importance of consumer diversity and resource characteristics to decomposition remains unclear. Forested headwater streams are detritus-based systems, dependent on leaf litter inputs from adjacent riparian ecosystems, and decomposition of these resources is an important ecosystem function. Here, we examined the effects of consumer community diversity on leaf decomposition in a reciprocal transplant experiment. We asked (1) whether stream consumer communities are adapted to local resources and (2) how functional trait diversity among communities affects the leaf decomposition process. We did not find evidence that communities were adapted to locally derived resource subsidies. Instead, we found that consumer biomass and functional trait diversity as well as resource characteristics were the primary biotic drivers of decomposition. Consumer biomass was stimulated by specific resource subsidies, leading to direct and indirect effects of resource subsidies on ecosystem functioning. Contrary to current theory, we show that decomposition was higher with decreased detritivore functional diversity, suggesting dominant traits encompassing a specific niche increased decomposition. We also show that top-down, consumer diversity effects can be equal in magnitude to the bottom- up effects of resource characteristics during the decomposition process. Our research illustrates the importance of considering multiple biotic and abiotic drivers interacting via multiple pathways to affect a crucial ecosystem function.