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Research article2023Peer reviewedOpen access

Diatoms Reduce Decomposition of and Fungal Abundance on Less Recalcitrant Leaf Litter via Negative Priming

Feckler, Alexander; Baudy-Groh, Patrick; Friedrichs, Lisa; Goncalves, Sara; Luederwald, Simon; Risse-Buhl, Ute; Bundschuh, Mirco


Heterotrophic microbial decomposers colonize submerged leaf litter in close spatial proximity to periphytic algae that exude labile organic carbon during photosynthesis. These exudates are conjectured to affect microbial decomposers' abundance, resulting in a stimulated (positive priming) or reduced (negative priming) leaf litter decomposition. Yet, the occurrence, direction, and intensity of priming associated with leaf material of differing recalcitrance remains poorly tested. To assess priming, we submerged leaf litter of differing recalcitrance (Alnus glutinosa [alder; less recalcitrant] and Fagus sylvatica [beech; more recalcitrant]) in microcosms and quantified bacterial, fungal, and diatom abundance as well as leaf litter decomposition over 30 days in absence and presence of light. Diatoms did not affect beech decomposition but reduced alder decomposition by 20% and alder-associated fungal abundance by 40% in the treatments including all microbial groups and light, thus showing negative priming. These results suggest that alder-associated heterotrophs acquired energy from diatom exudates rather than from leaf litter. Moreover, it is suggested that these heterotrophs have channeled energy to alternative (reproductive) pathways that may modify energy and nutrient availability for the remaining food web and result in carbon pools protected from decomposition in light-exposed stream sections.


Stream ecosystem; Leaf litter decomposition; Priming effect; Periphytic algae; Heterotrophic decomposers; Labile carbon

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Microbial Ecology
2023, Volume: 86, number: 4, pages: 2674-2686
Publisher: SPRINGER

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