DOI: 10.1111/oik.09936 ISSN:

Agricultural land use weakens the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning

Alexander Feckler, Jacob Schnurr, Gabriela Kalčíková, Amélie Truchy, Brendan G. McKie, Ralf B. Schäfer, Ralf Schulz, Mirco Bundschuh
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

Leaf litter decomposition is a significant ecosystem process for streams' energy provisioning, while species‐specific decomposition rates often form a continuum from slow to fast decomposing species allowing for resources' availability to stream consumers over a longer time period after leaf fall. Leaf litter mixtures in streams typically comprise leaf species varying in their traits, allowing for litter diversity effects on decomposition. At the same time, agricultural land use, habitat characteristics, water quality and invertebrate composition modulate leaf litter decomposition. To identify leaf litter diversity effects and disentangle the roles of agricultural intensity, habitat characteristics, water quality and invertebrate composition for leaf litter processing in streams, we quantified leaf litter decomposition of three leaf species covering a gradient from slow to fast decomposing species, tested either individually or as a three‐species mixture. The study was conducted over 21 days across 18 streams with a gradient of agricultural intensity (percent agricultural land use) in their catchments. We found leaf litter diversity effects in terms of complementarity under low to intermediate agricultural intensity, given that slow decomposing leaf species decomposed almost twice as fast in the three‐species mixture compared to the observations on individual leaf species. This leaf litter diversity effect decreased with increasing agricultural intensity, suggesting that agriculture weakens the biodiversity–ecosystem functioning relationship. However, pathways by which agriculture affected decomposition differed between single‐species and mixed‐species scenarios. For the single‐species scenario, negative effects of agriculture appeared to be mediated through effects on the proportion of sensitive detritivore species and altered habitat characteristics. For the mixed‐species scenario, altered water quality negatively affected the proportion of sensitive detritivore species, in turn reducing the diversity effect on functioning. Our results suggest that the weakened biodiversity–ecosystem functioning relationship under increasing agricultural intensity might be a significant factor threatening carbon cycling and food web integrity in streams.

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