Macroinvertebrate communities and decomposition rates of leaf and stem litter in a Texas saltmarsh-mangrove ecotone




McGuigan, Molly

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After an extreme freeze event in 2021 caused extensive mangrove mortality and widespread top-kill to surviving mangroves and salt marsh vegetation along much of the Texas coast, it produced a massive flush of dead leaf and stem material in the ensuing litterfall. I questioned if there was a difference in macroinvertebrate community composition in leaf and stem litter and litter decomposition rates between Avicennia germinans (L) L, the black mangrove, and Batis maritima L, a halophytic succulent forb. In a field experiment, I used mesh litter bags to either allow or exclude macroinvertebrates and found no difference in macroinvertebrate community composition between the two litter types, suggesting they are generalists within a mesohaline and hypersaline environment. Wetness level of bags varied from dry, partially damp, mostly damp, and wet, and was significant in determining community composition parameters, with mostly damp bags having the highest abundance, richness, and diversity of macroinvertebrates. However, wetness level was not significant in determining litter decomposition (k). I found that leaf and stem litter is rapidly colonized and decomposed at 2-weeks post placement and then faunal abundance and diversity decline after 2 weeks, suggesting litter serves as a temporary “oasis” for macroinvertebrates. There was no difference in litter decomposition rate between mesh sizes, implicating that colonization by macroinvertebrates does not have a significant effect on litter decomposition, and rather it is likely being affecting by other abiotic and biotic factors or a combination of both. This study was the first to quantify B. maritima litter decomposition, with a rate of 0.098 g day-1, as compared to A. germinans litter decomposition of 0.024 g day-1. This research should inform management decisions by coastal land managers and conservationists when making management decisions concerning small invertebrate use of and effects on litter as communities shift from herbaceous saltmarsh to woody mangrove and influence the food webs of which small invertebrates are an important component.


A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Coastal and Marine System Science.


avicennia germinans, batis maritima, decomposition, litter bags, macroinvertebrates, regime shifts



Attribution (CC BY)