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Volume 1 (2001), Pages 656-680
Review Article

From Litterfall to Breakdown in Streams: A Review

Departamento de Zoologia, Universidade de Coimbra, 3004-517 Coimbra, Portugal

Academic Editor: Joao Carlos Marques

Copyright © 2001 Manuela�Abelho.


This paper is a review of recent (≤10 years) information on litterfall, standing stock of benthic organic matter, breakdown rates, and fungal colonization of organic matter in streams. In some cases, recent research reinforces the findings of classic reference papers. In other cases, the additional knowledge provided by recent research introduces a higher variation in the processes analyzed. In many aspects, especially those concerning stream organic matter, the review is biased towards the temperate North American streams, reflecting the fact that most research was carried out there. However, during the 1990s European studies increased enormously, especially those related with instream processes, such as leaf litter decomposition. The first part of this review analyzes the origin of allochthonous organic matter to streams (litterfall, retention, and storage), and it provides data on the amounts estimated in different streams and on the methodology used in the studies. The second part analyzes the fate of detritus in streams: mechanisms of leaf breakdown, relative importance of fungi and bacteria, factors affecting the activity of microbial decomposers, and chemical changes of leaf litter during decomposition. A list of breakdown rates of several different leaf species is given, together with the methodology used, and the main characteristics of the incubation streams.