Chemical contamination of aquatic systems often co-occurs with dramatic changes in surrounding terrestrial vegetation. Plant leaf litter serves as a crucial resource input to many freshwater systems, and changes in litter species composition can alter the attributes of freshwater communities. However, little is known how variation in litter inputs interacts with chemical contaminants. We investigated the ecological effects resulting from changes in tree leaf litter inputs to freshwater communities, and how those changes might interact with the timing of insecticide contamination. Using the common insecticide malathion, we hypothesized that inputs of nutrient-rich and labile leaf litter (e.g., elm [Ulmus spp.] or maple [Acer spp.]) would reduce the negative effects of insecticides on wetland communities relative to inputs of recalcitrant litter (e.g., oak [Quercus spp.]). We exposed artificial wetland communities to a factorial combination of three litter species treatments (elm, maple, and oak) and four insecticide treatments (no insecticide, small weekly doses of 10 μg L−1, and either early or late large doses of 50 μg L−1). Communities consisted of microbes, algae, snails, amphipods, zooplankton, and two species of tadpoles. After two months, we found that maple and elm litter generally induced greater primary and secondary production. Insecticides induced a reduction in the abundance of amphipods and some zooplankton species, and increased phytoplankton. In addition, we found interactive effects of litter species and insecticide treatments on amphibian responses, although specific effects depended on application regime. Specifically, with the addition of insecticide, elm and maple litter induced a reduction in gray tree frog survival, oak and elm litter delayed tree frog metamorphosis, and oak and maple litter reduced green frog tadpole mass. Our results suggest that attention to local forest composition, as well as the timing of pesticide application might help ameliorate the harmful effects of pesticides observed in freshwater systems.
- Acetylcholine esterase inhibitor
- Hyla versicolor
- Larval anuran
- Lithobates clamitans