A cross-system comparison of bacterial and fungal biomass in detritus pools of headwater streams

S. Findlay, J. Tank, S. Dye, H. M. Valett, P. J. Mulholland, W. H. McDowell, S. L. Johnson, S. K. Hamilton, J. Edmonds, W. K. Dodds, W. B. Bowden

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174 Scopus citations


The absolute amount of microbial biomass and relative contribution of fungi and bacteria are expected to vary among types of organic matter (OM) within a stream and will vary among streams because of differences in organic matter quality and quantity. Common types of benthic detritus [leaves, small wood, and fine benthic organic matter (FBOM)] were sampled in 9 small (1st-3rd order) streams selected to represent a range of important controlling factors such as surrounding vegetation, detritus standing stocks, and water chemistry. Direct counts of bacteria and measurements of ergosterol (a fungal sterol) were used to describe variation in bacterial and fungal biomass. There were significant differences in bacterial abundance among types of organic matter with higher densities per unit mass of organic matter on fine particles relative to either leaves or wood surfaces. In contrast, ergosterol concentrations were significantly greater on leaves and wood, confirming the predominance of fungal biomass in these larger size classes. In general, bacterial abundance per unit organic matter was less variable than fungal biomass, suggesting bacteria will be a more predictable component of stream microbial communities. For 7 of the 9 streams, the standing stock of fine benthic organic matter was large enough that habitat-weighted reach-scale bacterial biomass was equal to or greater than fungal biomass. The quantities of leaves and small wood varied among streams such that the relative contribution of reach-scale fungal biomass ranged from 10% to as much as 90% of microbial biomass. Ergosterol concentrations were positively associated with substrate C:N ratio while bacterial abundance was negatively correlated with C:N. Both these relationships are confounded by particle size, i.e., leaves and wood had higher C:N than fine benthic organic matter. There was a weak positive relationship between bacterial abundance and streamwater soluble reactive phosphorus concentration, but no apparent pattern between either bacteria or fungi and streamwater dissolved inorganic nitrogen. The variation in microbial biomass per unit organic matter and the relative abundance of different types of organic matter contributed equally to driving differences in total microbial biomass at the reach scale.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-66
Number of pages12
JournalMicrobial Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002


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