Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Multiple stressors mediate the effects of warming on leaf decomposition in a large regulated river

March 18, 2024

Predicting how increasing temperatures interact with other global change drivers to influence the structure and dynamics of Earth's ecosystems is a primary challenge in ecology. Our study made use of multiple simultaneous “natural experiments” to examine how rapid warming, declining nutrients, invasive consumers, and riparian invasive species management interact to influence leaf decomposition in a large and regulated river. Specifically, we compared the breakdown of cottonwood (Populus fremontii), willow (Salix exigua), and saltcedar (Tamarix sp.) leaf litter in 2022 to a previous experiment from 1998 that occurred under much cooler water temperatures, and had higher water phosphorus concentrations, low numbers of invasive New Zealand mudsnails (Potamopyrgus antipodarum), and unaltered litter chemistry from the herbivory of saltcedar leaf beetles (Diorhabda carinulata). We found that the effects of up to 10°C warmer temperatures on leaf decomposition were mediated by the establishment and management of invasive species and declining water nutrient concentrations arising from upstream reservoir lowering. Such interactions led to accelerated breakdown of saltcedar, but relatively minor effects of warming on the rate of cottonwood and willow decomposition. Additionally, our results demonstrate the potential for favorable invasive species management outcomes in the terrestrial environment to produce unintended responses in adjacent freshwater ecosystems. As temperatures continue to rise, it is critical that future studies consider how warming interacts with multiple stressors and environmental factors to influence processes such as decomposition in freshwater ecosystems.

Publication Year 2024
Title Multiple stressors mediate the effects of warming on leaf decomposition in a large regulated river
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.4804
Authors Eric Arthur Scholl, Kyle R. Hanus, Tyler Gardner, Theodore Kennedy
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecosphere
Index ID 70252241
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center