Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Amphibian populations around the world have been declining rapidly over the past two decades, particularly in upland regions of the neotropics, where a fungal pathogen that causes chytridiomycosis has decimated many regions. Despite increasing concern over these and other dramatic losses of biodiversity, little information is available on the overall ecological effects of amphibian declines. As part of the Tropical Amphibian Declines in Streams (TADS) project, I quantified major energy fluxes, secondary production, and macroinvertebrate community structure for two consecutive years in four stream reaches in the Panamanian uplands, two with healthy amphibian populations and two that had experienced amphibian declines in 1996-1997. Despite relatively high year-round inputs of allochthonous organic materials, storage of detritus in the stream channels was low compared to streams in temperate regions. Organic matter inputs and standing stocks were similar between pre- and post-decline streams, and did not differ appreciably with season. Seston export was a major energetic flux in these systems, and differences in the nutritional quality (C:N) of seston in pre- and post-decline streams suggested that the loss of tadpoles may decrease the quality of materials exported from these headwaters. At coarse scales (e.g., total abundance) macroinvertebrate assemblages were similar between pre- and post-decline sites, but there were noticeable differences in production and functional and taxonomic structure. Pre-decline reaches had higher shredder production and post-decline streams had higher scraper production. In addition, taxonomic differences between pre- and post-decline streams were also evident, with a shift from dominance of smaller scraper taxa in pre-decline sites (i.e. Psephenus) to larger-bodied scrapers such as Petrophila in post-decline reaches. Filterer production was dominated by hydropsychid caddisflies in pre-decline reaches, whereas black flies dominated filterer production in post-decline reaches. Overall, detritus and detritivores dominated energy flow in all study reaches. However, scrapers were well represented in these systems and appeared to be food-limited, particularly in pre-decline reaches where grazing tadpoles were still abundant. During the second year of my study, predicted amphibian declines began at the pre-decline site. The loss of amphibians through this year resulted in subtle shifts in macroinvertebrate functional and taxonomic structure, which correlated with changes in available food resources. Some grazing mayflies responded positively to declining tadpole populations and subsequent increased periphyton resources, suggesting a potential for some degree of functional redundancy in these systems. However, other grazers, such as the water penny beetle Psephenus, showed no response during the period of study. My results indicate that responses of remaining consumers to tadpole declines in streams may not be evident at some coarse scales (e.g., total abundance, biomass). However, differences in secondary production at the community and the functional level, along with assemblage structure changes were evident, with some individual taxa responding relatively quickly. Long-term studies in these same stream reaches will further illuminate the ultimate ecological consequences of these dramatic and sudden losses of consumer diversity.
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