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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2016

Disturbance history influences stressor impacts: effects of a fungicide and nutrients on microbial diversity and litter decomposition

Gardeström, Per; Ermold, Matti; Goedkoop, Willem; Mckie, Brendan


Streams draining agricultural catchments are severely degraded by multiple stressors, including nutrient enrichment and pesticides. The understanding of how such stressors interact to alter ecosystem structure and function, and how responses of biota reflect their longer-term disturbance history, remains limited. We conducted a multifactorial stream microcosm experiment to investigate how elevated nutrients and a fungicide (azoxystrobin) interact to affect multiple variables associated with leaf decomposition: the biomass, sporulation rate and diversity of aquatic hyphomycete decomposers, litter decomposition rates and detritivore growth. We further manipulated decomposer species composition by using three distinct fungal assemblages drawn from streams with contrasting histories of agricultural disturbance: a forest stream, a mixed land-use stream subject to nutrient enrichment but little pesticide use, and an agricultural stream subjected to both intensive nutrient and pesticide use. We also varied the presence of the detritivorous isopod Asellus aquaticus. The fungicide azoxystrobin reduced both biomass and diversity of aquatic hyphomycetes and growth of A.aquaticus, and had negative knock-on effects on leaf decomposition and fungal sporulation. These impacts further varied with nutrient concentration. Impacts of the fungicide differed markedly among the three fungal assemblages. The agricultural assemblages were dominated by tolerant species and showed some capacity for maintaining processes under pesticide exposure, whereas diversity and functioning were strongly suppressed in the forest stream assemblage, which was dominated by stress-intolerant species. Pesticides, in interaction with other agricultural stressors, can impact microbial diversity and key ecosystem processes underlying the delivery of ecosystem services from streams. The extent of such impacts vary according to the longer-term disturbance history of the biota, and might be most acute when agricultural activity expands into previously uncultivated catchments, as is currently occurring in many regions of the world.


agricultural intensification; aquatic fungi; functional redundancy; pollution-induced community tolerance; stressor interactions

Published in

Freshwater Biology
2016, Volume: 61, number: 12, pages: 2171-2184