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Investigating Leaf Litter Decomposition and Invertebrate Communities in Streams

Author(s): Alida Janmaat

University of the Fraser Valley

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Students utilize the provided dataset to engage in an open-inquiry project on the impacts of abiotic and biotic factors on stream macroinvertebrate communities and/or leaf litter decomposition.

Licensed under CC Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International according to these terms

Version 1.0 - published on 12 Jun 2018 doi:10.25334/Q4W674 - cite this


Leaf litter is often the primary source of carbon within streams and the breakdown of leaf litter through decomposition is the foundation of most temperate stream energy webs.  Decomposition in streams is primarily achieved by the combined action of physical factors, bacteria, fungi and invertebrate detritivores.  Environmental factors such as temperature, pH, and nutrient levels may impact the rate of decomposition through their impact on these decomposing organisms.  Therefore, leaf litter packs and their decomposition rates have been suggested as a way to monitor biological processes within local streams (Gessner and Chauvet, 2002).   Changes in the decomposition rate affect the energy available within the stream system, and ultimately the community of organisms living there.

The provided dataset is from a classroom-based undergraduate research project conducted by students at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) in British Columbia, Canada.  In the study, students placed artificial leaf packs in streams near the Abbotsford campus of UFV. Subsets of the packs were collected at biweekly intervals, colonizing invertebrates were removed and identified, and the remaining leaf material was dried and weighed.  In addition, the depth, temperature, pH and nutrient (nitrate and phosphate) concentrations of each of the stream sites was measured.

There is an extensive body of literature on leaf litter decomposition in streams and the associated macroinvertebrates.  Access to this primary literature provides an opportunity for students to explore current research findings and develop diverse hypotheses that are supported by the literature and are testable with the provided dataset.  The series of assignments outlined in this dataset, provides students with an open-ended inquiry of the impacts of biotic and abiotic factors on leaf litter decomposition and/or benthic macroinvertebrate communities.  Alternatively, faculty may wish to direct students to look at specific relationships.  Comparisons that effectively illustrate ecological concepts are listed in the faculty notes.

Please cite as:

Alida F. Janmaat. 2018. Investigating Leaf Litter Decomposition and Invertebrate Communities in Streams. Teaching Issues and Experiments in Ecology, Vol. 13: Practice #4 [online]. doi:10.25334/Q4W674


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