Luz Boyero, University of BasqueFollow
Manuel A. S. Graça, University of CoimbraFollow
Alan M. Tonin, Universidade de BrasíliaFollow
Javier Pérez, University of Basque
Andrew J. Swafford, University of California, Santa Barbara
Verónica Ferreira, University of Coimbra
Andrea Landeira-Dabarca, University of CoimbraFollow
Markos A. Alexandrou, Wildlands Conservation Science, LLC.
Mark O. Gessner, Berlin Institute of TechnologyFollow
Brendan G. McKie, Swedish University of Agricultural SciencesFollow
Ricardo J. Albariño, Universidad Nacional ComahueFollow
Leon A. Barmuta, University of Tasmania, AustraliaFollow
Marcos Castillo, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais
Julián Chará, Centro para la Investigación en Sistemas Sostenibles de Producción Agropecuaria (CIPAV)
Eric Chauvet, Université de ToulouseFollow
Jose Checo Colón-Gaud, Georgia Southern UniversityFollow
David Dudgeon, University of Hong Kong
Andrea C. Encalada, Universidad San Francisco de QuitoFollow
Ridcardo Figueroa, Universidad de ConcepciónFollow
Alexander S. Flecker, Cornell UniversityFollow
Tadeusz Fleituch, Polish Academy of SciencesFollow
André Frainer, UiT The Arctic University of NorwayFollow
José F. Gonçalves Jr., Universidade de BrasíliaFollow
Julie E. Helson, University of Toronto, Scarborough
Tomoya Iwata, University of YamanashiFollow
Jude Mathooko, Egerton University
Charles M'Erimba, Egerton UniversityFollow
Catherine M. Pringle, University of GeorgiaFollow
Alonso Ramírez, University of Puerto Rico, Rio PiedrasFollow
Christopher M. Swan, University of Maryland at Baltimore
Catherine M. Yule, Monash University
Richard G. Pearson, James Cook University AustraliaFollow

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Scientific Reports






Plant litter represents a major basal resource in streams, where its decomposition is partly regulated by litter traits. Litter-trait variation may determine the latitudinal gradient in decomposition in streams, which is mainly microbial in the tropics and detritivore-mediated at high latitudes. However, this hypothesis remains untested, as we lack information on large-scale trait variation for riparian litter. Variation cannot easily be inferred from existing leaf-trait databases, since nutrient resorption can cause traits of litter and green leaves to diverge. Here we present the first global-scale assessment of riparian litter quality by determining latitudinal variation (spanning 107°) in litter traits (nutrient concentrations; physical and chemical defences) of 151 species from 24 regions and their relationships with environmental factors and phylogeny. We hypothesized that litter quality would increase with latitude (despite variation within regions) and traits would be correlated to produce ‘syndromes’ resulting from phylogeny and environmental variation. We found lower litter quality and higher nitrogen:phosphorus ratios in the tropics. Traits were linked but showed no phylogenetic signal, suggesting that syndromes were environmentally determined. Poorer litter quality and greater phosphorus limitation towards the equator may restrict detritivore-mediated decomposition, contributing to the predominance of microbial decomposers in tropical streams.


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