, Volume 716, Issue 1, pp 59–73 | Cite as

Leaf breakdown, detrital resources, and food webs in streams affected by mine drainage

Primary Research Paper


Breakdown of leaf litter is essential for providing detrital resources for food webs but can be impaired by anthropogenic activities, which may disrupt energy flow to consumers. We investigated the relationship between leaf breakdown and food web structure in 12 streams with or without mining impacts on South Island, New Zealand. Six streams received inputs of acid mine drainage (pH 2.5–4.9), three were naturally acidic (pH ~5.0), and three were circumneutral (pH ~6.8). Streams affected by mining either had highly acidic water (pH <3) or iron precipitates present on substrata. Breakdown rates of leaves were significantly lower in mining-affected streams than circumneutral (by almost 50%) but not naturally acidic streams and were driven primarily by microbial activity, as shredding invertebrates were often absent. Mining-affected stream webs were simplified structures with fewer species and links than those in other streams. With few species to process leaf litter and transfer detrital resources, inputs of AMD disrupted both the mechanisms responsible for breakdown and links for energy flow. While faster breakdown rates were associated with larger food webs, limited function maintained in mining-affected streams was sufficient to support primary consumers and small food webs.


Leaf breakdown Acid mine drainage (AMD) Iron precipitates Ecosystem function Food web structure Detritus 



We thank Ian Reeves and Phil Jellyman for field assistance; Milen Marinov, Haley Stoddart, and Linda Morris for help in the laboratory; and Mike Winterbourn and two anonymous reviewers for useful comments that improved this manuscript. The Brian Mason Scientific & Technical Trust and the Foundation for Science Research & Technology (Grant CRLX0401) funded this research. K. Hogsden was supported by scholarships from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the University of Canterbury.

Supplementary material

10750_2013_1544_MOESM1_ESM.doc (92 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 92 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand

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