A modification of the leaf-bags method to assess spring ecosystem functioning: benthic invertebrates and leaf-litter breakdown in Vera Spring (Central Italy)

PeerJ. 2019 Feb 13:7:e6250. doi: 10.7717/peerj.6250. eCollection 2019.


The evaluation of leaf detritus processing (decomposition and breakdown) is one of the most simple and cost-effective method to assess the functional characteristics of freshwater ecosystems. However, in comparison with other freshwater habitats, information on leaf litter breakdown in spring ecosystems is still scarce and fragmentary. In this paper, we present results of the first application of a variant of the leaf-bags method to assess structure of macroinvertebrate assemblages and leaf-litter breakdown in a Central Apennines (Italy) cold spring which was investigated from July 2016 to October 2016. Notwithstanding the stable conditions of almost all hydrological and physico-chemical parameters, we found significant temporal differences in (i) % of mass loss of poplar leaves (ii) number of Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera and Trichoptera taxa, (iii) shredder and predator densities. We demonstrate that detritus processing in cold springs may be faster than or as fast as in warmer streams/rivers. Shredders activity and biocoenotic interactions, rather than temperature and nutrients load, were the main drivers of the process. A routine application of the modified leaf-bags may contribute to expand our knowledge on detritus processing in cold springs and may help to predict impacts of climate warming on freshwater ecosystem functioning.

Keywords: Biocoenotic interactions; Detritus processing; Functional attributes; Macroinvertebrates; Poplar leaves; Spring ecosystems.

Grants and funding

The research was funded by a grant of the Regione Abruzzo (DPC-024). There was no additional external funding received for this study. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.