Skip to main content
  • Original research
  • Open access
  • Published:

Wildfires alter stream ecosystem functioning through effects on leaf litter



Wildfires have strong impacts on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, whose frequency, severity, and intensity are increasing with climate change. Moreover, the expansion of exotic monoculture plantations, such as those of eucalypts, increases this risk. When wildfires do not cause the disappearance of riparian vegetation, they still imply the fall of leaf litter exposed to the fire (i.e., crown scorch), which consequences for ecosystems are unknown.

Experimental design

To explore how these leaf litter inputs may affect stream ecosystem functioning, we conducted a microcosm experiment where we quantified the decomposition of leaf litter from three tree species (alder, oak, and eucalypt) under two conditions (control litter simulating natural entries and litter subjected to 150 °C for 3 h mimicking exposure to fire). We also examined the interaction between this factor and a temperature rise (which is often associated to the loss of riparian vegetation caused by the wildfire) by manipulating water temperature (10, 12.5, and 15 °C). Finally, we explored the effects of these variables on the growth of a common detritivore, the caddisfly Sericostoma pyrenaicum.


Control alder presented the highest decomposition rates, which were notably reduced due to fire exposure. On the contrary, eucalypt litter decomposition was even slower than that of oak and hardly showed any effect derived from fire exposure. The different leaf litter types determined detritivore growth, to a greater extent than variation related to warming, which generally had negligible effects.


Our study shows the negative effects of wildfires on stream ecosystem functioning even when they only involve brief exposure of leaf litter to the fire. Effects are greater on the most palatable native species, which represents the highest quality input in streams of the study area. Our results highlight the importance of protecting riparian forests, especially those composed of native species, against wildfires.



Los incendios forestales suponen fuertes impactos sobre los ecosistemas terrestres y acuáticos cuya frecuencia, severidad e intensidad están aumentando con el cambio climático. Además, las grandes extensiones de monocultivos de especies exóticas, tales como el eucalipto, conllevan un incremento de este riesgo. Cuando los incendios no implican la desaparición completa de la vegetación ribereña, generan la caída de hojarasca expuesta al fuego, con consecuencias desconocidas para los ecosistemas.

Diseño experimental

Para conocer cómo afecta la entrada de esta hojarasca al funcionamiento del ecosistema fluvial se realizó un experimento de microcosmos, comparando la descomposición de hojarasca de tres especies arbóreas (aliso, roble y eucalipto) bajo dos condiciones (hojarasca control representando entradas naturales, y hojarasca sometida a 150 °C durante 3 h simulando la exposición al fuego). Examinamos además la interacción de este factor con el calentamiento del agua (atribuido a la pérdida de vegetación riparia por el incendio), manipulando la temperatura (10, 12.5 y 15 °C). Finalmente, analizamos los efectos de estas variables sobre el crecimiento de un detritívoro común, el tricóptero Sericostoma pyrenaicum.


El aliso control presentó la mayor tasa de descomposición, que se redujo notablemente con la exposición al fuego. Por el contrario, la hojarasca de eucalipto, cuyo procesamiento fue aún más lento que la del roble, apenas se vio afectado por la exposición al fuego. Los diferentes tipos de hojarasca determinaron el crecimiento de los detritívoros en mayor medida que las variaciones derivadas del calentamiento del agua, que tuvieron efectos por lo general insignificantes.


Nuestro estudio demuestra que los incendios forestales tienen efectos nocivos sobre el funcionamiento del ecosistema fluvial, incluso cuando únicamente implican una breve exposición de la hojarasca al fuego. Los efectos fueron mayores sobre la especie nativa con hojarasca más palatable, que además constituye el aporte de mayor calidad en los ríos del área de estudio. Nuestros resultados resaltan la importancia de proteger los bosques ribereños, especialmente los compuestos por especies nativas, contra los incendios.


Wildfires are landscape disturbances with the potential to fundamentally alter the structure and function of forest ecosystems (Flannigan et al. 2009; Pettit and Naiman 2007; Vaz et al. 2015). Each year, fire burns nearly 650 Mha of forests around the globe, and it is expected that their frequency and extent will increase in the near future in association with factors such as climate change (Gergel et al. 2017; IPCC 2018), land abandonment, or afforestation with monocultures of fire-prone species (Moreira et al. 2011; Pausas et al. 2004), such as eucalyptus plantations (Gill 1997). According to climate change predictions, the prevalence of fires will increase due to reduced snowpack, hotter summers, and more vapor pressure deficit that will reduce soil and fuel moisture (Flannigan et al. 2013; Westerling 2016).

The role of wildfires in ecosystem dynamics has attracted considerable attention for extensive biomes such as grasslands and forests (Bowman et al. 2021; Miller et al. 2019). However, less attention has been devoted to other ecosystems such as riparian forests, which can also be affected (Coble et al. 2023; Cunillera‐Montcusí et al. 2021; Gomez Isaza et al. 2022). Besides, altered riparian forests have the potential to impact stream ecosystems, particularly headwaters, where allochthonous leaf litter inputs provide the primary source of energy to the aquatic food web (Vannote et al. 1980; Wallace et al. 1997). Leaf litter is decomposed in the water while its constituent elements are used by microbial decomposers, mainly aquatic hyphomycetes (AHs), and by detritivorous invertebrates (hereafter detritivores). Thus, this terrestrial material is partly incorporated into the stream food web, and it drives other fundamental stream processes such as nutrient cycling and energy flow (Marks 2019; Swan et al. 2021). Rates of leaf litter decomposition are often used as a tool to assess stream ecosystem functioning and integrity and how these properties are altered by different stressors (Ferreira et al. 2021; Gessner and Chauvet 2002). However, there is little information to date about how instream leaf litter decomposition can be affected by wildfires occurring in their surrounding forest (Gama et al. 2007).

Wildfires can produce the total loss of the riparian forest, thus exposing streams to greater solar radiation and, as a result, increasing their temperature (Veraverbeke et al. 2012), affecting soil characteristics (Granged et al. 2011), and eliminating allochthonous leaf litter inputs (Bixby et al. 2015; Warren et al. 2022). This, in turn, can result in decreased detritivore numbers that cascade into alterations at higher tropic levels (Mellon et al. 2008), with repercussions downstream or for the whole watershed (Piccolo and Wipfli 2002). However, in some cases, fires do not completely eliminate the forest, causing heat damage to the foliage—the so-called crown scorch (Varner et al. 2021)—and driving inputs of partially burnt leaf litter to the stream with potential effects on their decomposition and decomposer assemblages. It is known that, when leaf litter is subjected to high temperatures associated to heat waves (≈ 40 °C), which can generate foliar damage (Still et al. 2023), nutrient leaching is accelerated once submerged and leaf litter quality is reduced, decreasing decomposition and, ultimately, the growth of detritivores (Pérez et al. 2021b). During wildfires, many of the fire-exposed leaves can be subjected to much higher temperatures (60–150 °C), resulting in severe effects on fire-exposed leaves (Lodge et al. 2018; Manzello 2020). Consequently, this may have potentially strong but unknown effects on leaf litter decomposition.

Moreover, the magnitude and recurrence of wildfires increase due to the transformation of native forests into monoculture plantations (Heilmayr et al. 2016; Whitney et al. 2015). For example, Eucalyptus spp. are fast-growing evergreen species frequently planted for paper production (Ferreira et al. 2006; Graça et al. 2002) and highly flammable (Gill 1997; Jenkins et al. 2016). In general, eucalypt leaf litter inputs to streams differ in timing, quantity, and quality from those of native trees (Pozo et al. 1998), and eucalypt leaf litter decomposes more slowly and has lower quality than that of many native species. Its lower quality is due to lower N and P contents (Ferreira et al. 2006), higher secondary compound contents including oils and polyphenols, and a waxy cuticle, all of which hinder microbial colonization and degradation (Graça et al. 2002) and affects decomposers and ecosystem functioning (Canhoto and Graça 1996; Larrañaga et al. 2021; Pérez et al. 2021c).

Here, we examined the above issues through a microcosm experiment, where we subjected leaf litter of two native species differing in leaf quality as well as the exotic eucalypt, to temperatures simulating those of a wildfire. We examined the decomposition of this leaf litter compared to control leaf litter not subjected to high temperatures, because decomposition rate is a key functional metric frequently used to measure stream ecosystem integrity (Ferreira et al. 2021; Pérez et al. 2011). We predicted that (i) fire-exposed leaf litter would decompose more slowly than control leaf litter, because of alterations in their structural and chemical characteristics such as toughness, specific leaf area, and nutrient concentration (as shown for leaf litter subjected to heat waves; Pérez et al. 2021b). However, we expected that (ii) changes in leaf quality and hence in decomposition would not be identical for different species, being more marked for leaf litter of higher quality, as shown for other impacts (Cornejo et al. 2020). Finally, we manipulated water temperature during the experiment to explore any interaction between wildfire effects on leaf litter and water warming associated to the loss of riparian vegetation, predicting that (iii) higher temperatures would accelerate the decomposition of control leaf litter more markedly than that of burnt leaf litter, due to the greater activity of microbial decomposers and detritivores in the former.

Material and methods

Leaf litter

We collected leaf litter and detritivores from the Agüera stream catchment, which is located in northern Spain (43.21° N, 3.27° W). The climate is humid oceanic, with annual mean precipitation of 1650 mm distributed regularly throughout the year and a mean annual temperature of 11.0 °C. The catchment forest is dominated by several native species including Quercus robur L. (Fagaceae), Alnus glutinosa (L.) Gaertn. (Betulaceae), Castanea sativa Mill. (Fagaceae) and Corylus avellana L. (Betulaceae). In parts of the catchment, the native forest has been replaced by exotic monocultures of Eucalyptus globulus Labill. (Myrtaceae). We selected three species to be used in the experiment: A. glutinosa (a native, N-fixing, rapid decomposer; hereafter alder) and Q. robur (a native, non-N-fixing, slow decomposer; hereafter oak), both known to be important for stream ecosystem integrity in the study area (Alonso et al. 2022), and E. globulus (an exotic, non-N-fixing, slow decomposer; hereafter eucalypt). Leaf litter was collected from the forest floor immediately after natural abscission in the Agüera catchment headwaters (Nov. 2021).

In the laboratory, leaf litter was air dried to constant mass and preserved in dark and stable conditions within cardboard boxes, at laboratory temperature (ca. 20 °C) and humidity (ca. 50%). Half of the leaves from each species were subjected to a high-temperature pre-treatment, which represented the occurrence of a wildfire in the near proximity; this consisted of exposing the leaf litter to 150 °C for 3 h within an oven (i.e., fire-exposed leaf litter). The other half of the leaves were kept at air temperature (i.e., control leaf litter). Both sets were cut into pieces of approximately 4 cm2 avoiding the basal midrib and weighed to the nearest 0.01 mg using a precision balance. Five subsamples of each leaf litter × pre-treatment combination were directly dried to estimate remaining humidity and to establish the pre-leaching conditions (see below).


Detritivores used in the experiment were larvae of the cased caddisfly Sericostoma pyrenaicum Pictet, 1865 (Trichoptera: Sericostomatidae; hereafter Sericostoma), one of the most common leaf litter consumers in streams of the Agüera catchment (Martínez et al. 2016a). In April 2022, larvae of similar size were manually picked from stream leaf litter at one site within the catchment (the Perea stream; 43.296° N, 3.254° W) and transported to the laboratory. Larvae were acclimated in trays with constant aeration and mixed riverbed leaf litter for 72 h, within a controlled-temperature room set at 10 °C (i.e., the lower end of the stream temperature range at the season when detritivores were collected), which simulated stream conditions and minimized evaporation. Detritivores were starved for 48 h prior to starting the experiment.


We measured the leaching of soluble compounds in the leaf litter of each species (alder, oak, and eucalypt) subjected to each pre-treatment (control and fire-exposed) and water temperature (10, 12.5, and 15 °C) in 54 microcosms, with 3 replicates per combination of treatments. Five subsamples of each species × pre-treatment combination (i.e., 30 samples) were directly dried (60 °C, 72 h) in order to estimate remaining humidity (%, air DM) and to establish the pre-leaching conditions (see below). Microcosms consisted of glass cups (580 mL, 8 cm diameter) that were placed in the controlled-temperature room (10 °C), constantly aerated and with a light:dark regime of 12:12 h. Each microcosm was filled with 400 mL of filtered (100 µm) stream water [dissolved inorganic nitrogen (N), 365.5 ± 12.1 µg L−1; soluble reactive phosphorus (P), 3.9 ± 2.0 µg L−1] and contained 0.3 g of leaf litter, which was incubated for 72 h, with water replacement after 48 h. The 100-µm filter allowed the entrance of microorganisms and microbial colonization of leaf litter, but microbial decomposition was most likely negligible during this short period (Bärlocher 2020).

After the leaching trial, leaf litter was used to measure leaf toughness [using a penetrometer, which measured the pressure (kPa) necessary to pierce the leaf tissue with a 0.79-mm diameter steel rod (Boyero et al. 2011)] and specific leaf area [SLA; the ratio of leaf area (mm2) to leaf dry mass (DM; mg)]. Then, the pre-leaching and post-leaching samples were oven-dried (60 °C, 72 h), weighed, and divided into two subsamples. The first subsample was incinerated (550 °C, 4 h) and weighed to determine ash-free dry mass (AFDM). The second subsample was ground into powder (1-mm screen) and used to determine carbon (C) and N concentrations, using a Perkin Elmer series II CHNS/O elemental analyzer (Perkin Elmer, Norwalk, CT, USA), and P concentration, using autoclave-assisted extraction (APHA, 1998). This allowed us to calculate leaching in terms of mass, as proportional leaf mass loss [LML = (post-leaching AFDM − initial AFDM)/initial AFDM], leaf litter C, N, and P pre- and post-leaching composition, and to correct initial leaf litter AFDM data for the decomposition experiment.

Decomposition experiment

The experiment was conducted in 126 microcosms with the same characteristics and under the same conditions described above. Each microcosm contained leaf litter belonging to one of the three species (alder, oak, and eucalypt), subjected to one of the two pretreatments (control and fire-exposed), and under one of the three temperatures (10, 12.5, and 15 °C). For each combination of treatments, there were seven replicate microcosms. Two types of leaf litter were added: free leaf litter (0.9 g), which was accessible to detritivores, and enclosed leaf litter (0.3 g), which was placed within a fine mesh bag (500 µm) and thus inaccessible to detritivores, with the purpose of assessing microbial decomposition.

We first added the leaf litter to microcosms and kept it for 72 h, with water replacement after 48 h, in order to allow the leaching of soluble compounds and initial microbial conditioning (Bärlocher 2020; Findlay and Arsuffi 1989). Detritivores were acclimated to experimental conditions for 5 days (fed ad libitum with mixed litter from the same stream) and then starved for 48 h before the experiment. Detritivore case dimensions were measured (0.001 mm precision) using the ImageJ software (v. 1.46r), and considering their truncated cone shape, the case volume of experimental larvae was estimated (CV, mL). Their initial DM (mg) was estimated using a CV-DM relationship (DM = 114.51 × CV − 0.37, r2 = 0.98) obtained from 29 extra larvae (Additional file 1: Fig. S1), which were also used to estimate initial body N and P concentrations (see below).

On day 0 of the experiment, the water was replaced in the microcosms, and detritivores were added. Subsequently, water was replaced weekly, using a 100-µm mesh filter in order to avoid losing leaf litter fragments. The experiment was terminated on day 30, when all the remaining leaf litter material in each microcosm was oven dried (60 °C, 72 h) and weighed to estimate the final DM. Each sample was divided into two subsamples, which were either incinerated (550 °C, 4 h) and used to estimate the final AFDM, or ground and used to determine the final N and P concentration (as for the leaching trial). Detritivores were starved for 48 h within the microcosms filled with filtered stream water, and then larvae were removed from their cases, freeze-dried, weighed, and ground into powder to determine their final N and P concentrations (using the same methods as for leaf litter samples).

Response variables and data analysis

We assessed our first hypotheses (i.e., that fire exposure would reduce leaf litter quality and hence decomposition), firstly by comparing key leaf litter traits (pre-leaching, leaching, and post-leaching characteristics; humidity, ash, toughness, SLA, C, N, and P) with general linear models (the “gls” function on the nlme package in R software); we used a model selection procedure based on the Akaike Information Criterion (AIC) to include or exclude the variance function structure varIdent as appropriate (e.g., López-Rojo et al. 2022). Pre-leaching traits (remaining humidity, ash, C, N, and P) were compared using species (alder, oak, and eucalypt) and pre-treatment (control and fire-exposed) as fixed factors and considering their interaction. In a similar way, leaching, in terms of mass and post-leaching traits (toughness, SLA, ash, C, N, and P), was examined with species, pre-treatment, and water temperature (10, 12.5, and 15 °C) as fixed factors and considering all their interactions. Significant differences among temperatures or species (α < 0.05) were further explored with Tukey tests (the “ghlt” function of the multcomp package).

Secondly, we assessed the effects of fire exposure on decomposition, which was quantified as leaf litter mass loss: LML (prop) = (initial mass-final mass)/initial mass, where initial mass is the leaching-corrected initial AFDM and final mass is the remaining AFDM after one month of incubation in the microcosms. We assessed variation in total decomposition (from free leaf litter), microbial decomposition (from enclosed leaf litter), and detritivore-mediated decomposition (the difference between the two) among species, pre-treatments, and water temperatures (all fixed factors) and all their interactions, using general linear models with model selection to account for the appropriate varIdent structure and Tukey tests, as explained above for leaf litter traits. Total and detritivore-mediated decomposition were standardized by mean detritivore initial DM (6.6 ± 0.3 mg) in order to avoid any possible effect of different detritivore sizes. Finally, we assessed variation in detritivore growth in terms of mass and N and P growth using the same type of model as for decomposition. Initial detritivore elemental composition was 45.6 ± 1.0% C, 7.89 ± 0.21% N, and 0.30 ± 0.02% P.


Pre-leaching leaf litter traits varied among species, and the concentration of nutrients (N and P) was higher in alder than in the other two species (Additional file 1: Fig. S2 and Table S1). Fire exposure barely affected pre-leaching traits, with negligible effects on ash, N, and P concentrations, and no evident pattern for C concentration (Additional file 1: Fig. S2). In contrast, the remaining humidity significantly decreased with fire exposure in the three species (p < 0.0001, Additional file 1: Table S1, Fig. 1). Leaf mass loss due to leaching was determined by water temperature and species, to a much greater extent than fire exposure (Fig. 2, Additional file 1: Table S1). Post-leaching leaf litter traits were not affected by fire exposure (Fig. 2, Additional file 1: Tables S1 and S2), differing mainly among species, with toughness and C concentration being also affected by temperature.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Mean ± SE of leaf litter moisture in control (Ctrl) and fire-exposed (FE) leaf litter in terms of remaining humidity (% of pre-leaching air-DM litter) of alder (Alnus glutinosa), oak (Quercus robur), and eucalypt (Eucalyptus globulus)

Fig. 2
figure 2

Radial representation of leaching loss and different post-leaching leaf litter traits (ash concentration, toughness, specific leaf area, and C, N, and P concentrations) at different experimental temperatures for the 6 studied substrates (Additional file 1: Table S2, see Fig. 1) at 3 different temperatures (10, 12.5, and 15 °C) in 54 microcosms. The dark gray circle represents the mean value (µ) of all the considered substrata for each trait, and the light grey circle a twofold increase (µ × 2)

Total, microbial, and detritivore-mediated decomposition were affected by fire exposure, but the effect varied with species (Fig. 3, Table 1), being more evident for alder, lower for oak, and negligible for eucalypt. Water temperature enhanced total and detritivore-mediated decomposition. Most detritivores reached the end of the experiment in the active larval stage (92%), with only ten individuals having pupated, most of them at the higher temperature microcosms (2 at 10 °C, 2 at 12. 5 °C, and 6 at 15 °C), and only two dead individuals. After excluding these microcosms from the analyses, detritivore growth decreased with fire exposure in terms of mass and N, which was especially evident for alder and oak (Fig. 4, Table 1). Detritivores fed eucalypt leaf litter did not grow during the experiment, and growth in terms of P was very limited in all cases, with no response observed in relation to fire exposure.

Fig. 3
figure 3

Total, microbial, and detritivore-mediated leaf litter decomposition of the six studied substrates (see Fig. 1; alder, oak, and eucalypt × control and fire-exposed) at different experimental temperatures (mean ± SE)

Table 1 General linear model results for decomposition (leaf mass loss (LML)) and detritivore performance variables (DF: degrees fo freedom of the F; numerator | denominator)
Fig. 4
figure 4

Detritivore growth in terms of mass, N, and P after being fed with the six studied substrates (see Fig. 1; alder, oak, and eucalypt × control and fire-exposed) at different experimental temperatures (mean ± SE)


The effects of wildfires on freshwater ecosystems encompass direct and indirect complex interactions between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems (Carvalho et al. 2019; Gomez Isaza et al. 2022; Whitney et al. 2015). Many of these have been scarcely assessed, especially for scenarios where vegetation does not completely disappear and burnt leaf litter remains in the forest (Varner et al. 2021; Warren et al. 2022). In this study, we experimentally addressed how this altered leaf litter would influence the key process of leaf litter decomposition in stream ecosystems and the fitness of detritivorous invertebrates involved in this process. Additionally, we explored whether the effects would be intensified by warming, because the loss of canopy cover caused by wildfires exposes the stream channel to direct sunlight (Mahlum et al. 2011) and increases water temperature (Molinero et al. 2012; Warren et al. 2022) long after the wildfire event (Musetta‐Lambert et al. 2020).

The decomposition of leaf litter exposed to fire was slower

Unexpectedly, we observed no significant changes in most of the studied leaf litter traits as a result of fire exposure. This agreed with a field study examining the effects of fire exposure on eucalypt leaf litter, which found no changes in litter quality (Gama et al. 2007), but contrasted with another one subjecting leaf litter to heating at a lower temperature than our experiment (40 °C), which found a decrease in leaf litter quality (i.e., increase of nutrient leaching; Pérez et al. 2021b). The only trait consistently affected in our study was remaining humidity, which was reduced approximately by half in the fire exposure treatment, where leaf litter retained < 5% moisture. This change may not seem relevant in the aquatic environment, but it may be for decomposition in soils, where humidity is a limiting factor (Leirós et al. 1999). Importantly, leaf litter conditioning by microbial decomposers (Dieter et al. 2011; Pérez et al. 2012) often starts in the forest floor or dry riverbeds (del Campo et al. 2021; Martínez et al. 2016a, 2015), being a key step for the ulterior utilization of nutrient-poor substrates by aquatic detritivores (Graça 2001; Santonja et al. 2018).

Nevertheless, despite the almost negligible changes observed in leaf chemistry, we found evident and consistent effects of fire exposure on leaf litter decomposition. Even if there were large differences in decomposition rates of the three studied species (which were greatest in the alder and lowest in the exotic eucalypt), as shown elsewhere (Graça et al. 2002; Monroy et al. 2023; Pérez et al. 2014), decomposition rates were consistently lower in leaf litter exposed to fire than in control leaf litter, and this effect was observed for both microbial and detritivore-mediated decomposition. While the abovementioned study by Gama et al. (2007) found no effects of fire exposure on eucalypt leaf litter decomposition in the short term, the study by Pérez et al. (2021b) found results comparable to ours for native species, suggesting that the effects observed here could apply not only to the areas closely affected by the wildfire, but to wider areas.

Wildfire effects on decomposition might be greater in the longer term

The effect of fire exposure was surprisingly less evident for microbial than for detritivore-mediated or total decomposition. In contrast, other studies have found microbial activity to be more strongly boosted by an increase in temperature (Boyero et al. 2011; Follstad Shah et al. 2017). In other microcosm experiments, where a natural detritivore assemblage was lacking as in our experiment (e.g., Pérez et al. 2023), microbial and detritivore activity resulted both similarly stimulated by warming in the short term. These results do not discard other possible responses of microbial decomposers and detritivores in the longer term. For example, after a wildfire, other known long-term legacies for stream ecosystems are the reduction in the quantity and quality of terrestrial organic matter supplies (Bixby et al. 2015; Warren et al. 2022), greater solar radiation (Veraverbeke et al. 2012), and a sustained increase in nutrient availability over time (Silins et al. 2014). All these changes could bring alterations in the structure and functioning of headwater streams (Jankowski et al. 2021; Pérez et al. 2013) that would make them more similar to mid-low reaches (Martínez et al. 2016b; Vannote et al. 1980) but that cannot be detected in a short-term microcosm experiment like the present one.

Eucalypt effects on stream ecosystems beyond wildfires

We observed that the growth of detritivores was severely limited for larvae-fed leaf litter exposed to fire. We thus observed stronger effects of fire exposure on detritivore fitness than on ecosystem processes, similar to those observed for more moderate heating (Pérez et al. 2021b). The effect was evident for detritivores fed native species (alder and oak), while for those fed eucalyptus, no net growth was observed regardless of the pre-treatment. The high nutritional quality of alder leaf litter is well documented, as well as its key role in stream ecosystem functioning (Alonso et al. 2021; Rubio-Rios et al. 2021), so the highest growth of detritivores fed control alder was expected, especially in terms of N. Eucalypt plantations, on the contrary, provides the stream ecosystem with bad-quality leaf litter inputs, which usually require a long microbial conditioning period to be a suitable food resource for detritivores (Graça et al. 2002; Pérez et al. 2014) and often alter detritivore assemblages (Canhoto et al. 2013; Larrañaga et al. 2014). Gama et al. (2007) found a lower abundance of detritivores in control compared to fire-exposed eucalyptus leaf litter and attributed this difference to the loss of chemical compounds that are known to be detrimental for detritivores (Correa‐Araneda et al. 2017; Gama et al. 2014; Graça et al. 2002) during the fire exposure.

Implications for riparian forest management

Previous studies demonstrated that alder leaf litter is a better resource for stream decomposers and detritivores than other leaf litter types, being especially important in terms of N cycling (Rubio-Ríos et al. 2023). Our results confirm this pattern and further show that it continues to be true after fire exposure, with burnt alder leaf litter being a better resource than unaffected eucalypt leaf litter. Given that alder leaf litter is a key resource for stream food webs and for supporting ecosystem functioning (Pérez et al. 2021a), and that alder trees present a high prevalence after wildfires, the presence of this species might mitigate wildfire effects on stream ecosystems (Coble et al. 2023). The benefits of maintaining native buffer strips (sensu Barton and Davies 1993) in the context of exotic plantations (Larrañaga et al. 2021) have been well documented and include positive effects on biodiversity and multiple ecosystem services (Dainese et al. 2017; Little et al. 2015; Renouf and Harding 2015). In addition to this, and given that monoculture plantations increase the frequency and dangerousness of wildfires (Gill 1997), the use of buffer strips seems key to promote the resistance of stream ecosystems to these perturbations and their ulterior recovery. Forest management plans should thus comprehensively consider the concomitant effects of exotic plantations and wildfire intensity and severity (Heilmayr et al. 2016; Jenkins et al. 2016; Sun et al. 2019) and develop strategies to minimize the effects of wildfires on freshwater communities and ecosystems.

Availability of data and materials

Data will be made available upon request.


  • Alonso, A., N. López-Rojo, J. Pérez, and L. Boyero. 2022. Functional consequences of alder and oak loss in stream ecosystems. Freshwater Biology 67 (9): 1618–1630.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Alonso, A., Pérez, J, Monroy S, et al. 2021. Loss of key riparian plant species impacts stream ecosystem functioning. Ecosystems 24(6):1436–1449.

  • APHA. 1998. Phosphorus: automated ascorbic acid reduction method, 4500-P, F. In: Franson MAH (ed). Standard Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastewater, 20th edition. Washington, D. C.: American Public Health Association, pp 148–149.

  • Bärlocher, F. 2020. Leaching. In Methods to study litter decomposition, ed. F. Barlochër, M.O. Gessner, and M.A.S. Graça, 37–41. Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Barton, J.L., and P.E. Davies. 1993. Buffer strips and streamwater contamination by atrazine and pyrethroids aerially applied to Eucalyptus nitens plantations. Australian Forestry 56 (3): 201–210.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bixby, R.J., S.D. Cooper, R.E. Gresswell, L.E. Brown, C.N. Dahm, and K.A. Dwire. 2015. Fire effects on aquatic ecosystems: An assessment of the current state of the science. Freshwater Science 34 (4): 1340–1350.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bowman, D.M., G.J. Williamson, R.K. Gibson, R.A. Bradstock, and R.J. Keenan. 2021. The severity and extent of the Australia 2019–20 Eucalyptus forest fires are not the legacy of forest management. Nature Ecology & Evolution 5 (7): 1003–1010.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Boyero, L., R.G. Pearson, M.O. Gessner, et al. 2011. A global experiment suggests climate warming will not accelerate litter decomposition in streams but may reduce carbon sequestration. Ecology Letters 14: 289–294.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Canhoto, C., and M.A.S. Graça. 1996. Decomposition of Eucalyptus globulus leaves and three native leaf species (Alnus glutinosa, Castanea sativa and Quercus faginea) in a Portuguese low order stream. Hydrobiologia 333 (2): 79–85.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Canhoto, C., R. Calapez, A.L. Gonçalves, and M. Moreira-Santos. 2013. Effects of Eucalyptus leachates and oxygen on leaf-litter processing by fungi and stream invertebrates. Freshwater Science 32 (2): 411–424.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Carvalho, F., A. Pradhan, N. Abrantes, et al. 2019. Wildfire impacts on freshwater detrital food webs depend on runoff load, exposure time and burnt forest type. Science of the Total Environment 692: 691–700.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Coble, A.A., B.E. Penaluna, L.J. Six, and J. Verschuyl. 2023. Fire severity influences large wood and stream ecosystem responses in western Oregon watersheds. Fire Ecology 19 (1): 1–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cornejo, A., J. Perez, N. Lopez-Rojo, et al. 2020. Agriculture impairs stream ecosystem functioning in a tropical catchment. Science of the Total Environment 745: 140950.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Correa-Araneda, F., A. Basaguren, R.T. Abdala-Díaz, A.M. Tonin, and L. Boyero. 2017. Resource-allocation tradeoffs in caddisflies facing multiple stressors. Ecology and Evolution 7 (14): 5103–5110.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Cunillera-Montcusí, D., A.I. Borthagaray, D. Boix, et al. 2021. Metacommunity resilience against simulated gradients of wildfire: Disturbance intensity and species dispersal ability determine landscape recover capacity. Ecography 44 (7): 1022–1034.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dainese, M., S. Montecchiari, T. Sitzia, M. Sigura, and L. Marini. 2017. High cover of hedgerows in the landscape supports multiple ecosystem services in Mediterranean cereal fields. Journal of Applied Ecology 54 (2): 380–388.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • del Campo, R., R. Corti, and G. Singer. 2021. Flow intermittence alters carbon processing in rivers through chemical diversification of leaf litter. Limnology and Oceanography Letters 6: 232–42.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dieter, D., D. von Schiller, E.M. García-Roger, et al. 2011. Preconditioning effects of intermittent stream flow on leaf litter decomposition. Aquatic Sciences 73 (4): 599–609.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ferreira, V., A. Elosegi, V. Gulis, J. Pozo, and M.A.S. Graça. 2006. Eucalyptus plantations affect fungal communities associated with leaf-litter decomposition in Iberian streams. Archiv Fur Hydrobiologie 166 (4): 467–490.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Ferreira, V., J. Silva, J. Cornut, et al. 2021. Organic-matter decomposition as a bioassessment tool of stream functioning: A comparison of eight decomposition-based indicators exposed to different environmental changes. Environmental Pollution 290: 118111.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Findlay, S.E., and T.L. Arsuffi. 1989. Microbial growth and detritus transformations during decomposition of leaf litter in a stream. Freshwater Biology 21 (2): 261–269.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Flannigan, M.D., M.A. Krawchuk, W.J. de Groot, B.M. Wotton, and L.M. Gowman. 2009. Implications of changing climate for global wildland fire. International Journal of Wildland Fire 18 (5): 483–507.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Flannigan, M., A.S. Cantin, W.J. De Groot, M. Wotton, A. Newbery, and L.M. Gowman. 2013. Global wildland fire season severity in the 21st century. Forest Ecology and Management 294: 54–61.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Follstad Shah, J.J., J.S. Kominoski, M. Ardon, et al. 2017. Global synthesis of the temperature sensitivity of leaf litter breakdown in streams and rivers. Global Change Biology 23 (8): 3064–3075.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Gama, M., A.L. Gonçalves, V. Ferreira, M.A. Graça, and C. Canhoto. 2007. Decomposition of fire exposed eucalyptus leaves in a Portuguese lowland stream. International Review of Hydrobiology 92 (3): 229–241.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Gama, M., Guilhermino, L., & Canhoto, C. 2014. Comparison of three shredders response to acute stress induced by eucalyptus leaf leachates and copper: single and combined exposure at two distinct temperatures. In Annales de Limnologie-International Journal of Limnology 50(2): 97–107.

  • Gergel, D.R., B. Nijssen, J.T. Abatzoglou, D.P. Lettenmaier, and M.R. Stumbaugh. 2017. Effects of climate change on snowpack and fire potential in the western USA. Climatic Change 141: 287–299.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gessner, M.O., and E. Chauvet. 2002. A case for using litter breakdown to assess functional stream integrity. Ecological Applications 12: 498–510.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gill, A.M. 1997. Eucalypts and fires: interdependent or independent?

  • Gomez Isaza, D.F., R.L. Cramp, and C.E. Franklin. 2022. Fire and rain: A systematic review of the impacts of wildfire and associated runoff on aquatic fauna. Global Change Biology 28 (8): 2578–2595.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Graça, M.A.S. 2001. The role of invertebrates on leaf litter decomposition in streams - a review. International Review of Hydrobiology 86 (4–5): 383–393.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Graça, M.A., J. Pozo, C. Canhoto, and A. Elosegi. 2002. Effects of Eucalyptus plantations on detritus, decomposers, and detritivores in streams. TheScientificWorldJOURNAL 2: 1173–1185.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Granged, A.J., L.M. Zavala, A. Jordán, and G. Bárcenas-Moreno. 2011. Post-fire evolution of soil properties and vegetation cover in a Mediterranean heathland after experimental burning: A 3-year study. Geoderma 164 (1–2): 85–94.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Heilmayr, R., C. Echeverría, R. Fuentes, and E.F. Lambin. 2016. A plantation-dominated forest transition in Chile. Applied Geography 75: 71–82.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • IPCC, 2018: Global warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°Cabove pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context ofstrengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts toeradicate poverty [V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, H. O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W.Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J. B. R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M. I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy,T. Maycock, M. Tignor, T. Waterfield (eds.)]. Online version:

  • Jankowski, K.J., L.A. Deegan, C. Neill, et al. 2021. Land use change influences ecosystem function in headwater streams of the lowland Amazon Basin. Water 13 (12): 1667.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Jenkins, M., L. Collins, O. Price, et al. 2016. Environmental values and fire hazard of eucalypt plantings. Ecosphere 7 (11): e01528.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Larrañaga, S., A. Larrañaga, A. Basaguren, A. Elosegi, and J. Pozo. 2014. Effects of exotic eucalypt plantations on organic matter processing in Iberian streams. International Review of Hydrobiology 99 (5): 363–372.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Larrañaga, A., Martínez, A., Albariño, R., Casas, J.J., Ferreira, V., Principe, R. 2021. Effects of Exotic Tree Plantations on Plant Litter Decomposition in Streams. In: Swan, C.M., Boyero, L., Canhoto, C. (eds) The Ecology of Plant Litter Decomposition in Stream Ecosystems. Cham: Springer.

  • Leirós, M., C. Trasar-Cepeda, S. Seoane, and F. Gil-Sotres. 1999. Dependence of mineralization of soil organic matter on temperature and moisture. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 31 (3): 327–335.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Little, C., J.G. Cuevas, A. Lara, M. Pino, and S. Schoenholtz. 2015. Buffer effects of streamside native forests on water provision in watersheds dominated by exotic forest plantations. Ecohydrology 8 (7): 1205–1217.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lodge, A.G., M.B. Dickinson, and K.L. Kavanagh. 2018. Xylem heating increases vulnerability to cavitation in longleaf pine. Environmental Research Letters 13 (5): 055007.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • López-Rojo, N., L. Boyero, J. Pérez, A. Basaguren, and B.J. Cardinale. 2022. No evidence of biodiversity effects on stream ecosystem functioning across green and brown stream food web compartments. Freshwater Biology 67: 720–30.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mahlum, S.K., L.A. Eby, M.K. Young, C.G. Clancy, and M. Jakober. 2011. Effects of wildfire on stream temperatures in the Bitterroot River Basin, Montana. International Journal of Wildland Fire 20 (2): 240–247.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Manzello, SL. 2020 ed. Encyclopedia of wildfires and wildland-urban interface (WUI) fires. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

  • Marks, J.C. 2019. Revisiting the fates of dead leaves that fall into streams. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 50 (1): 547–568.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Martínez, A., J. Pérez, J. Molinero, M. Sagarduy, and J. Pozo. 2015. Effects of flow scarcity on leaf-litter processing under oceanic climate conditions in calcareous streams. Science of the Total Environment 503: 251–257.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Martínez, A., A. Larrañaga, A. Miguélez, G. Yvon-Durocher, and J. Pozo. 2016a. Land use change affects macroinvertebrate community size spectrum in streams: The case of Pinus radiata plantations. Freshwater Biology 61 (1): 69–79.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Martínez, A., S. Monroy, J. Pérez, et al. 2016b. In-stream litter decomposition along an altitudinal gradient: Does substrate quality matter? Hydrobiologia 766 (1): 17–28.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mellon, C.D., M.S. Wipfli, and J.L. Li. 2008. Effects of forest fire on headwater stream macroinvertebrate communities in eastern Washington, USA. Freshwater Biology 53 (11): 2331–2343.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Miller, A.D., J.R. Thompson, A.J. Tepley, and K.J. Anderson-Teixeira. 2019. Alternative stable equilibria and critical thresholds created by fire regimes and plant responses in a fire-prone community. Ecography 42 (1): 55–66.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Molinero, J., A. Larrañaga, J. Pérez, A. Martínez, J. Pozo. 2012. Stream water temperatures in the Basque mountains during winter and global warming: implications for heterotrophic processes. In AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts.

  • Monroy, S., A. Larrañaga, A. Martínez, et al. 2023. Temperature sensitivity of microbial litter decomposition in freshwaters: Role of leaf litter quality and environmental characteristics. Microbial Ecology 85 (3): 839–852.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Moreira, F., O. Viedma, M. Arianoutsou, et al. 2011. Landscape–wildfire interactions in southern Europe: Implications for landscape management. Journal of Environmental Management 92 (10): 2389–2402.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Musetta-Lambert, J.L., D.P. Kreutzweiser, and P.K. Sibley. 2020. Assessing the influence of wildfire on leaf decomposition and macroinvertebrate communities in boreal streams using mixed-species leaf packs. Freshwater Biology 65 (6): 1047–1062.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Pausas, J.G., C. Bladé, A. Valdecantos, et al. 2004. Pines and oaks in the restoration of Mediterranean landscapes of Spain: New perspectives for an old practice—a review. Plant Ecology 171 (1): 209–220.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pérez, J., M. Menéndez, S. Larrañaga, and J. Pozo. 2011. Inter-and intra-regional variability of leaf litter breakdown in reference headwater streams of Northern Spain: Atlantic versus Mediterranean streams. International Review of Hydrobiology 96 (1): 105–117.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pérez, J., E. Descals, and J. Pozo. 2012. Aquatic hyphomycete communities associated with decomposing alder leaf litter in reference headwater streams of the Basque Country (northern Spain). Microbial Ecology 64 (2): 279–290.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Pérez, J., A. Basaguren, E. Descals, A. Larrañaga, and J. Pozo. 2013. Leaf-litter processing in headwater streams of northern Iberian Peninsula: Moderate levels of eutrophication do not explain breakdown rates. Hydrobiologia 718 (1): 41–57.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pérez, J., J. Galan, E. Descals, and J. Pozo. 2014. Effects of fungal inocula and habitat conditions on alder and eucalyptus leaf litter decomposition in streams of northern Spain. Microbial Ecology 67: 245–255.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Pérez, J., Basaguren, A., López-Rojo, N., Tonin, A.M., Correa-Araneda, F., Boyero, L. 2021a. The Role of Key Plant Species on Litter Decomposition in Streams: Alder as Experimental Model. In: Swan, C.M., Boyero, L., Canhoto, C. (eds) The Ecology of Plant Litter Decomposition in Stream Ecosystems. Cham: Springer.

  • Pérez, J., F. Correa-Araneda, N. López-Rojo, A. Basaguren, and L. Boyero. 2021b. Extreme temperature events alter stream ecosystem functioning. Ecological Indicators 121: 106984.

  • Pérez, J., V. Ferreira, M.A.S. Graça, and L. Boyero. 2021c. Litter quality is a stronger driver than temperature of early microbial decomposition in oligotrophic streams: a microcosm study. Microbial Ecology 82: 897–908.

  • Pérez, J., A. Cornejo, A. Alonso, et al. 2023. Warming overrides eutrophication effects on leaf litter decomposition in stream microcosms. Environmental Pollution 332: 121966.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Pettit, N.E., and R.J. Naiman. 2007. Fire in the riparian zone: Characteristics and ecological consequences. Ecosystems 10: 673–687.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Piccolo, J.J., and M.S. Wipfli. 2002. Does red alder (Alnus rubra) in upland riparian forests elevate macroinvertebrate and detritus export from headwater streams to downstream habitats in southeastern Alaska? Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 59 (3): 503–513.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pozo, J., A. Basaguren, A. Elósegui, J. Molinero, E. Fabre, and E. Chauvet. 1998. Afforestation with Eucalyptus globulus and leaf litter decomposition in streams of northern Spain. Hydrobiologia 373 (374): 101–109.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Renouf, K., and J. Harding. 2015. Characterising riparian buffer zones of an agriculturally modified landscape. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 49 (3): 323–332.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rubio-Rios, J., J. Perez, M.J. Salinas, et al. 2021. Key plant species and detritivores drive diversity effects on instream leaf litter decomposition more than functional diversity: A microcosm study. Science of the Total Environment 798: 149266.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Rubio-Ríos, J., M.J. Salinas-Bonillo, J. Pérez, E. Fenoy, L. Boyero, and J.J. Casas. 2023. Alder stands promote N-cycling but not leaf litter mass loss in Mediterranean streams flowing through pine plantations. Forest Ecology and Management 542: 121072.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Santonja, M., L. Pellan, and C. Piscart. 2018. Macroinvertebrate identity mediates the effects of litter quality and microbial conditioning on leaf litter recycling in temperate streams. Ecology and Evolution 8 (5): 2542–2553.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Silins, U., K.D. Bladon, E.N. Kelly, et al. 2014. Five-year legacy of wildfire and salvage logging impacts on nutrient runoff and aquatic plant, invertebrate, and fish productivity. Ecohydrology 7 (6): 1508–1523.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Still, C., A. Sibley, D. DePinte, et al. 2023. Causes of widespread foliar damage from the June 2021 Pacific Northwest heat dome: More heat than drought. Tree Physiology 43 (2): 203–209.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Sun, Q., C. Miao, M. Hanel, et al. 2019. Global heat stress on health, wildfires, and agricultural crops under different levels of climate warming. Environment International 128: 125–136.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Swan, C.M., Boyero, L., Canhoto, C. 2021. The Ecology of Plant Litter Decomposition in Stream Ecosystems: An Overview. In: Swan, C.M., Boyero, L., Canhoto, C. (eds) The Ecology of Plant Litter Decomposition in Stream Ecosystems. Cham: Springer.

  • Vannote, R.L., G.W. Minshall, K.W. Cummins, J.R. Sedell, and C.E. Cushing. 1980. The river continuum concept. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 37: 130–137.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Varner, J.M., S.M. Hood, D.P. Aubrey, et al. 2021. Tree crown injury from wildland fires: Causes, measurement and ecological and physiological consequences. The New Phytologist 231 (5): 1676–1685.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Vaz, P.G., E.C. Merten, D.R. Warren, et al. 2015. Fire meets inland water via burned wood: And then what? Freshwater Science 34 (4): 1468–1481.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Veraverbeke, S., W.W. Verstraeten, S. Lhermitte, R. Van De Kerchove, and R. Goossens. 2012. Assessment of post-fire changes in land surface temperature and surface albedo, and their relation with fire–burn severity using multitemporal MODIS imagery. International Journal of Wildland Fire 21 (3): 243–256.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wallace, J.B., S.L. Eggert, J.L. Meyer, and J.R. Webster. 1997. Multiple trophic levels of a forest stream linked to terrestrial litter inputs. Science 277 (5322): 102–104.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Warren, D.R., D.A. Roon, A.G. Swartz, and K.D. Bladon. 2022. Loss of riparian forests from wildfire led to increased stream temperatures in summer, yet salmonid fish persisted. Ecosphere 13 (9): e4233.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Westerling, A.L. 2016. Increasing western US forest wildfire activity: Sensitivity to changes in the timing of spring. hilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 371 (1696): 20150178.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Whitney, J.E., K.B. Gido, T.J. Pilger, D.L. Propst, and T.F. Turner. 2015. Consecutive wildfires affect stream biota in cold-and warmwater dryland river networks. Freshwater Science 34 (4): 1510–1526.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This study was partially funded by Basque Government funds (Ref. IT1471-22) and the project Freshtress (Ref. PID2022-138055NB-I00) funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation and FEDER to L. Boyero. D. Rojo was supported by an INVESTIGO contract (European Union- Next Generation EU). F. Correa-Araneda was supported by Anillo ATE220060 and Fondecyt 1231551 projects.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



JP: conceptualization, methodology, investigation, validation, formal analysis, data curation, visualization, and writing—review and editing. CB: conceptualization, resources, investigation, data curation, visualization, and writing—review and editing. AA: investigation, methodology, formal analysis, writing—original draft, and writing—review and editing. AS: investigation and writing—review and editing. DR: investigation and writing—review and editing. FC-A: investigation and writing—review and editing. LB: conceptualization, methodology, investigation, resources, writing—review and editing, supervision, and funding acquisition.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Javier Pérez.

Ethics declarations

Ethics approval and consent to participate

Not applicable.

Consent for publication

Not applicable.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary Information

Additional file 1: Fig. S1.

Four different size-mass relations of Sericostoma pyrenaicum at the beginning of the experiment from 29 extra larvae. Fig. S2. Pre-leaching concentrations of ash, C, N and P (% DM; mean ± SE, n = 5) of the three litter species (Alder, Oak & Eucalypt) after both pre-treatments (Control and Fire exposed). Table S1. General linear model results on leaching (mass loss) and pre- and post-leaching traits of the six studied substrates (see Fig. 1). Table S2. Mean values of the litter traits after the leaching assay of the six studied substrates (see Fig. 1) at three different temperatures.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Pérez, J., Brand, C., Alonso, A. et al. Wildfires alter stream ecosystem functioning through effects on leaf litter. fire ecol 20, 36 (2024).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI:


Palabras clave