Publication Date

Spring 2016

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Dr. Scott Grubbs (Director), Dr. Albert Meier, and Dr. Philip Lienesch

Degree Program

Department of Biology

Degree Type

Master of Science


This project addressed if decaying macroalgae and leaf detritus play a major role in the detrital pool of a 7th-order karst riverine system. Decay rates, macroinvertebrates colonization patterns, and change in δ13C values of Cladophora, Platanus occidentalis, and a mix of Acer negundo and A. saccharinum were tracked during summer and autumn months for portions of multiple years.

Packs of air-dried Cladophora, Acer, and P. occidentalis were placed in mesh bags and put in groups (n=4) in wire baskets. Seven baskets were submerged in riffle (0.5 m) and deeper run (2 m) habitats. Benthic organic matter was collected with each pack to see if there was a correlation with δ13C signatures of decaying macroproducers to help understand what is entering the detrital food web.

Summer 2014 Cladophora and Acer were significantly faster to breakdown than Platanus in both habitats. In autumn‒spring 2014‒2015, Cladophora was significantly faster to breakdown than leaves. Isotopic values of Cladophora were not significantly different than leaves in summer 2014 but were significantly more δ13Cdepleted in the autumn‒spring 2014‒2015. There were no significant differences in macroinvertebrate abundance between the macroproducers for either season. Cladophora had significantly lower macroinvertebrate richness in both seasons, lower shredder abundance, but a significantly higher abundance of clingers. The mean δ13C values of benthic detritus were significantly different than all three macroproducers in the summer and significantly different than Cladophora in the run treatment for autumn‒spring.

Seasonality had a strong influence on breakdown rates, leading to greater mass loss of all three species in the warm summer months compared to the cooler autumn‒spring months. The low macroinvertebrate richness and shredder abundance on the decaying macroalga suggests Cladophora may not be consumed by macroinvertebrates but used strictly as habitat. The implication of rapid Cladophora decay during warm seasons, plus few colonizing macroinvertebrate taxa, is that the decaying macroalgae may not pass through a decomposer food web before being remineralized as CO2.


Biology | Food Microbiology | Microbiology