Effects of Mine Drainage on Breakdown of Aspen Litter in Mountain Streams


Rates of aspen litter breakdown were measured at 40 sites in streams of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, U.S.A. The sites encompassed a range of effects of mine drainage, from pristine (no effects) to highly stressed. The pH, concentrations of dissolved zinc, and deposition rates of metal oxides (the three main stresses from mine drainage) were measured in each stream. Rates of litter breakdown were estimated from changes in mass of aspen leaves in litterbags. The biological communities associated with litter breakdown also were evaluated by measuring the biomass of shredding invertebrates in litterbags and the rate of microbial respiration on litter. Of the stresses from mine drainage, concentration of zinc and deposition rate of metal oxides were most closely related (negatively) to rate of litter breakdown. Biomass of shredding invertebrates was also negatively related to concentration of dissolved zinc and deposition of metal oxides. Microbial respiration was negatively related to deposition rate of metal oxides and positively related to concentration of nutrients. Both shredder biomass and microbial respiration were positively related to litter breakdown rate and, together, accounted for 79% of its variation. Recovery of litter breakdown in streams affected by mine drainage requires remediation that limits both dissolved and deposited metals.


Biological Sciences


National Science Foundation (U.S.)
Geological Survey (U.S.)
University of Colorado

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Article - Journal

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