Assessing ecological responses to catastrophic amphibian declines: Patterns of macroinvertebrate production and food web structure in upland Panamanian streams

Colón-Gaud, Checo, Matt R. Whiles, Susan S. Kilham, Karen R. Lips, Cathy M. Pringle, Scott Connelly, Scot D. Peterson

Limnol. Oceanogr., 54(1), 2009, 331-343 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2009.54.1.0331

ABSTRACT: As part of the Tropical Amphibian Declines in Streams (TADS) project, we estimated macroinvertebrate production and constructed quantitative food webs for four headwater stream reaches in the Panamanian uplands: two that had experienced massive amphibian declines and two with unaffected amphibian populations. As expected for forested headwaters, allochthonous materials were the dominant energy source. Total macroinvertebrate biomass and production ranged from 231 to 360 mg ash-free dry mass m-2 and from 3.1 to 4.4 g ash-free dry mass m-2 yr-1, respectively, and did not appear influenced by the presence or absence of amphibians. However, macroinvertebrate functional structure differed between pre- and post-decline sites, with shredder production significantly higher in pre-decline sites and scrapers significantly higher in post-decline sites. Taxonomic differences between pre- and post-decline sites were also evident. There was a shift in scrapers from smaller-bodied taxa (e.g., Psephenus) in pre-decline sites to larger-bodied groups (e.g., Petrophila) in post-decline sites. Detrital pathways were dominant in these systems, with shredders and collectors accounting for most energy flow. However, scrapers were well-represented and they were food-limited in these systems, particularly in the presence of larval amphibians at pre-decline sites. Ecological effects of catastrophic amphibian declines ranged from subtle shifts in taxonomic composition and functional structure of remaining consumers to changes in the availability and relative importance of autochthonous energy sources.

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