A Global Assessment of the Effects of Eucalyptus Plantations on Stream Ecosystem Functioning

Forest change is a major environmental problem worldwide. Forest streams, with their large aquatic-terrestrial interface and strong dependence on terrestrially derived organic matter, are highly sensitive to forest changes. Fast-wood plantations can be particularly threatening if they markedly differ from native forests. Eucalyptus plantations, in particular, cover large areas worldwide (>20 million ha, mostly from 35 degrees S to 35 degrees N), but their effects on stream functioning have been addressed mostly in the Iberian Peninsula, which limits generalization to other regions. We assessed the effect of eucalyptus plantations on total (microbial decomposers and macroinvertebrates; in coarse mesh bags) and microbial-driven (in fine mesh bags) leaf litter decomposition by comparing streams flowing through native forests and eucalyptus plantations in seven regions in the Iberian Peninsula, Central Africa and South America. We found an overall significant inhibition of total litter decomposition by 23%. The effect did not significantly differ across regions, although a significant inhibition was found for Spain (-41%), South Brazil (-31%) and Uruguay (-36%) (Portugal had a marginally nonsignificant inhibition by 50%) but not for other regions, suggesting that the effects of plantations in temperate climates are mediated through effects on macroinvertebrate communities. Contrarily, the overall effect for microbial-driven litter decomposition was non-significant, but it significantly differed across regions with a significant stimulation in Central Brazil (110%) and Uruguay (32%), and nonsignificant effects for other regions (Kenya had a marginally nonsignificant inhibition by 48%), suggesting that functional redundancy among microbial communities is not general and effects can occur if plantations induce changes in nutrient availability, solar irradiation or litter characteristics.

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