Leaf-litter leachate concentration promotes heterotrophy in freshwater biofilms: Understanding consequences of water scarcity

Sci Total Environ. 2017 Dec 1;599-600:1677-1684. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.05.043. Epub 2017 May 19.


Climate change is increasing overall temporal variability in precipitation resulting in a seasonal water availability, both increasing periods of flooding and water scarcity. During low water availability periods, the concentration of leachates from riparian vegetation increases, subsequently increasing dissolved organic matter (DOM). Moreover, shifts in riparian vegetation by land use changes impact the quantity and quality of DOM. Our objective was to test effects of increasing DOM concentrations from Eucalyptus grandis (one of the most cultivated tree species in the world) leachates on the metabolism (respiration, R; gross primary productivity, GPP) and extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs) of freshwater biofilms. To test effects of DOM concentrations on freshwater biofilm functions, we incubated commercial cellulose sponges in a freshwater pond to allow biofilm colonization, and then exposed biofilms to five different concentrations of leaf-litter leachates of E. grandis for five days. To test if responses to DOM concentrations varied with colonization stage of biofilms, we measured treatment effects on biofilms colonizing standard substrates after one, two, three and four weeks of colonization. Increases in leachates concentrations enhanced biofilm heterotrophy, increasing R rates and decreasing GPP. Leachate concentrations did not affect biofilm EEAs, and changes in biofilm metabolism were not explained by treatment-induced changes in biofilm biomass or stoichiometry. We detected the lowest production:respiration ratios, i.e. more heterotrophic assemblages, with the most concentrated leachate solution and the most advanced biofilm colonization stages. Shifts in quantity of dissolved organic matter in freshwaters may further influence ecosystem metabolism and carbon processing.

Keywords: Biofilm functioning; Colonization stage; Dissolved organic matter; Eucalyptus grandis; Freshwater ecosystem.

MeSH terms

  • Biofilms*
  • Climate Change
  • Eucalyptus
  • Fresh Water*
  • Heterotrophic Processes*
  • Plant Leaves
  • Water Microbiology*