Agriculture impairs stream ecosystem functioning in a tropical catchment
López Rojo, Naiara
Tonin, Alan M.
Ríos González, Tomas A.
Correa Araneda, Francisco
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Science Of The Total Environment 745 : (2020) // Article ID 140950
The expansion of agriculture is particularly worrying in tropical regions of the world, where native forests are being replaced by crops at alarming rates, with severe consequences for biodiversity and ecosystems. However, there is little information about the potential effects of agriculture on the functioning of tropical streams, which is essential if we are to assess the condition and ecological integrity of these ecosystems. We conducted a litter decomposition experiment in streams within a tropical catchment, which were subjected to different degrees of agricultural influence: low (protected area, PA), medium (buffer area, BA) and high (agricultural area, AA). We quantified decomposition rates of litter enclosed within coarse-mesh and fine-mesh bags, which allowed the distinction of microbial and detritivore-mediated decomposition pathways. We used litter of three riparian species representing a gradient in litter quality (Alnus acuminate > Ficus irtsipida > Querns burnelioides), and examined detritivore assemblages through the contents of litterbags and benthic samples. We found that the increasing agricultural influence promoted microbial decomposition, probably due to nutrient-mediated stimulation; and inhibited detritivore-mediated and total decomposition because of reduced detritivore numbers, most likely caused by pesticides and sedimentation. Effects were evident for Alnus and Ficus, but not for Querns, which was barely decomposed across the gradient. Our study provides key evidence about the impact of agriculture on topical stream ecosystem functioning, which is associated to changes in stream assemblages and may have far-reaching repercussions for global biochemical cycles. (C) 2020 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V.