Riparian-zone vegetation can influence terrestrial and aquatic food webs through variation in the amount, timing, and nutritional content of leaf and other litter inputs. We investigated how riparian-forest community composition, understory density, and lateral slope shaped vertical and lateral litter inputs to 16 streams in the Oregon Coast Range. Riparian forests dominated by deciduous red alder delivered greater annual vertical litter inputs to streams (504 g m−2 y−1) than did riparian forests dominated by coniferous Douglas-fir (394 g m−2 y−1). Deciduous forests also contributed greater lateral litter inputs per meter of stream bank on one side (109 g m−1 y−1) than did coniferous forests (63 g m−1 y−1). Total litter inputs from deciduous forests exceeded those from coniferous forests most strongly in November, coincident with an autumn peak in litter inputs. Lateral litter inputs contributed most to total inputs during winter in both forest types. Annual lateral litter movement increased with slope at deciduous sites, but only in spring/summer months at coniferous sites. Neither experimental removal of understory vegetation nor installation of mesh fences to block downslope litter movement affected lateral litter inputs to streams, suggesting that ground litter moves <5 m downslope annually. N concentrations of several litter fractions were higher at deciduous sites and, when combined with greater litter amounts, yielded twice as much total litter N flux to streams in deciduous than coniferous sites. The presence of red alder in riparian forests along many small streams of the deeply incised and highly dendritic basins of the Oregon Coast Range enhances total fluxes and seasonality of litter delivery to both terrestrial and aquatic food webs in this region and complements the shade and large woody debris provided by large coniferous trees.
Additional publication details
Riparian litter inputs to streams in the central Oregon Coast Range