|Microbial decomposition of elm and oak leaves in a karst aquifer
|Year of Publication
|Eichem, A, Dodds, WK, Tate, CM, Edler, C
|Applied Environmental Microbiology
Dry Chinquapin oak (Quercus macrocarpa) and American elm (Ulmus americana) leaves were placed in four microcosms fed by groundwater springs to monitor changes in dry mass, ash-free dry mass, and microbial activity over a 35-day period. Oxygen microelectrodes were used to measure microbial activity and to estimate millimeter-scale heterogeneity in that activity. Oak leaves lost mass more slowly than elm leaves. Generally, there was a decrease in total dry weight over the first 14 days, after which total dry weight began to increase. However, there were consistent decreases in ash-free dry mass over the entire incubation period, suggesting that the material remaining after initial leaf decomposition trapped inorganic particles. Microbial activity was higher on elm leaves than on oak leaves, with peak activity occurring at 6 and 27 days, respectively. The level of oxygen saturation on the bottom surface of an elm leaf ranged between 0 and 75% within a 30-mm2 area. This spatial heterogeneity in O2 saturation disappeared when the water velocity increased from 0 to 6 cm s-1. Our results suggest that as leaves enter the groundwater, they decompose and provide substrate for microorganisms. The rate of decomposition depends on leaf type, small-scale variations in microbial activity, water velocity, and the length of submersion time. During the initial stages of decomposition, anoxic microzones are formed that could potentially be important to the biogeochemistry of the otherwise oxic aquifer.