Forests and Streams

The food webs of small streams and the adjacent riparian forests are inextricably – and reciprocally – linked. Riparian forests contribute substantial amounts of organic material to small streams, including leaf litter, conifer needles, and terrestrial invertebrates. These terrestrial inputs dramatically increase the productivity of stream food webs, and can make up the bulk of energy assimilated by stream insect and fish populations.

Research Projects

Our research examines how these forest-to-stream resource subsidies act as critical drivers of ecological processes, community dynamics, and trophic interactions in both adjacent stream ecosystems and estuarine systems downstream. Depending on local physical and biological conditions, streams can act as either conduits where material is exported intact to downstream systems, or as sites where organic matter is broken down and incorporated in local food webs by a multitude of organisms and physical processes. Our research program includes a number of discrete projects, each examining a separate aspect of organic matter dynamics and related ecological processes in small streams.

Trent Hoover is examining rates of organic matter input from riparian canopies to streams, and the subsequent roles that geomorphological processes play in the retention and breakdown of this material.
Antoine Lecerf is studying the role that stream biota (including hyphomycetes and detritivorous insects) play in mediating the effects of forestry on stream ecosystem functions
Laurie Marczak and John Kominoski are examining the importance of detritivore community structure in organic matter breakdown, and reciprocal linkages between riparian and forest ecosystems.
Santiago (Xanti) Larrañaga is examining leaf litter breakdown processes in small streams.
Takashi Sakamaki is studying the downstream transport of particulate organic matter and the importance of this material in estuarine systems downstream.

One of the goals of our research is to quantify the degree to which riparian management strategies – including forestry management practices – directly influence the ecology of small streams, and to examine how the effects of these perturbations are transmitted downstream. The results of our project will provide managers with tools to estimate whether stream systems are being protected by current or alternative practices.