Date of Award

5-16-2008

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Degree Program

Conservation Biology

Department

Biological Sciences

Major Professor

Pechmann, Joseph H.K.

Second Advisor

Cashner, Robert

Third Advisor

Howard, Jerome

Fourth Advisor

Maerz, John

Fifth Advisor

Poirrier, Michael

Abstract

This dissertation addresses the question of how leaf litter from trees affects animals that live in aquatic environments, with an emphasis on the effect of Chinese tallow (Triadica sebifera) leaf litter on anuran larvae (i.e., frog tadpoles). This question is important to our understanding of how allochthonous inputs to aquatic habitats drive biodiversity in wetlands. It also addresses a timely conservation concern in southeastern Louisiana where invasion by Chinese tallow trees (Triadica sebifera) is displacing native trees. The invasion process is homogenizing forest composition and changing the quantity and quality of litter inputs to ponds from those produced by a mixture of native species to that of a single invasive species. This change in litter quality may have important effects on aquatic animals because leaf litter that falls into ponds is an important source of nutrients and energy in wetland foodwebs. Leaf litter also affects water quality via effects on dissolved oxygen and leaching of defensive compounds, which may subsequently affect the diversity and performance of aquatic animals. Herein I address these issues by presenting a series of studies in which tadpole and aquatic invertebrate responses were tested using leaf litter from Chinese tallow leaves and three native tree species. The major findings of this research are: (1) Leaf litter has a direct effect on water quality (2) Chinese tallow can cause differential survival and performance of tadpoles (3) Differences in water quality due to leaf litter can cause changes in tadpole behavior (4) Chinese tallow leaf litter breaks down much faster than litter from native trees (5) Difference in litter breakdown rates influence aquatic community composition.

Rights

The University of New Orleans and its agents retain the non-exclusive license to archive and make accessible this dissertation or thesis in whole or in part in all forms of media, now or hereafter known. The author retains all other ownership rights to the copyright of the thesis or dissertation.

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