Ecosystem subsidies, the movement of resources across ecosystem boundries (Polis 1997), are an important part of organic matter cycling in aquatic systems. The reciprical transfer of resources between aquatic and terrestrial systems is common (Nakano 2001), however the input of terrestrial organic matter to aquatic systems is an especially significant flux of material since, this subsidy has been shown to support metabolism and secondary production in a majority of lentic and lotic ecosystems(Marcarelli 2011). Organic matter subsidies from terrestrial to aquatic ecosystems are dominated by detrital plant material either as dissolved (DOC) or particulate (POC) organic carbon, and can substantially augment autochthonous organic matter production (Hodkinson 1975, GASITH 1976, (citation not found: wetzel_1984) WETZEL 1995, Webster 1997, Kobayashi 2011, Mehring 2014).

The direct input of DOC dominates terrestrial subsidies in most aquatic systems (Rich 1978, (citation not found: wetzel_1984) (citation not found: CITE) but POC inputs, mainly in the form of leaf litter, can substantially augment aquatic organic matter pools (Wetzel 1972, Hodkinson 1975, GASITH 1976, Rich 1978, (citation not found: Wallace_1999) Mehring 2014). During the process of leaf litter decomposition in aquatic systems, the leaf biomass supplies distinct subsidies to the aquatic ecosystem (Gessner 1999, Marcarelli 2011). Up to 30% of the initial mass of leaves can be leached as DOC (citation not found: CITE) Meyer 1998, Duan 2014), although large initial DOC fluxes from dried leaves in decomposition experiments may be an artifact of air drying the leaves (CITE). This supply of DOC is an important component of aquatic organic matter budgets (McDowell 1976, Karlsson 2007) and has been shown to alter the abundance (Bott 1984, Fey 2015) and function (MCCONNELL 1968, Lennon 2005) of aquatic microbial communities. Furthermore, DOC subsidies processed through the microbial loop support metazoan production (Hall 1998, Wilcox 2005, (citation not found: Fey_2015b). The leaf mass that remains following leaching can be transferred directly to the biomass of aquatic invertebrate (citation not found: Wallace_1999) Kobayashi 2011) and vertebrate (Rubbo 2008) consumers via consumption of the leaf material or act as substrate for bacterial and fungal production (Gessner 1999).

The majority of research on leaf litter additions to aquatic systems has focused on its impact on microbial and metazoan production, however the process of leaf litter decomposition also alters the chemical and physical environment of aquatic systems (Gessner 1999). Leaf leachates reduce light penetration (citation not found: CITE) and alter pH (citation not found: CITE). Furthermore leachates provide bioavailable organic nutrients (citation not found: McConnell_1968) Duan 2014) and have been shown to increase total phosphorus (citation not found: Feh_2015b), and total nitrogen (citation not found: Feh_2015) concentration in overlying water. Mineralization of leaf organic matter by microbial or animal consumers, results in the release of inorganic nutrients and CO2 (citation not found: CITE) from the leaf mass. Typically, however, the stoichometric imbalance between microbial consumers and detritus means that leaves are sites of net immobilization of inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus (citation not found: CITE). The mineralization of organic carbon in the leaves creates a demand for oxygen (citation not found: CITE) that can lower dissolved oxygen concentrations in water overlying decomposing leaf litter (Hodkinson 1975, Rubbo 2008, Mehring 2014, (citation not found: Feh_2015b).

Although leaf litter represents an important subsidy in both lentic and lotic systems (Webster 1986), the physical differences between these systems will likely alter the specific effects of leaf litter on ecosystem function. The redistribution of sediments and other materials due to the flowing water in lotic systems tends to be more variable and extensive than in lentic systems (citation not found: Wetzel_2001), homogenizing the chemical and physical gradients produced by leaf litter decomposition over greater spatial extent. Lakes, ponds, and reservoirs, on the other hand at biogeochemical hot spots that have an impact on material processing disproportionate to their surface area in the watershed. The alterations to the lentic physical and chemical environment associated with leaf decomposition have the potential to affect the biogeochemical role of lentic systems on the landscape. Lentic systems are sites of organic matter production, mineralization, and storage (Tranvik 2009) and all of these processes are sensitive to the physical and chemical environment in the lake.


Within lentic systems, there are important differences between natural and man–made systems, particularly for the smallest lakes and ponds. The abundance of small (< 0.1 km2) lakes is greater than 2 orders of magnitude greater than even lakes with a surface area of 1 km2 (citation not found: 2010) and the cumulative surface area

Our study had 3 main objectives: 1) quantify the density leaf litter in the sediments of small man-made ponds, 2) measure the decomposition of standardized leaf pack subsidies to man–made ponds of contrasting construction and hydrology, and 3) evaluate the effect that leaf litter subsidies have on nutrient cycling and sediment oxygen demand in pond sediments. We hypothesize that leaf litter subsidies result in leaf litter being an abundant and persistent component of the sediment organic matter in man–made ponds, and the presence of leaf litter in the sediments will increase sediment oxygen demand, increase DOC concentration and bioavaliablity, and decrease the flux of DIN and DIP from the sediments. We further hypothesize that sediments containing leaf litter with have greater fungal biomass and sediment organic matter than sediments without leaf litter.


Study Site

All of the ponds used in the study are located near Farmville, VA (37.301 N, -78.396 W) (fig. \ref{fig:map}) and are small man–made ponds (Table \ref{tab:study_ponds}). Lancer Park Pond is a SIZE ha in–line pond with an earth dam and a maximum depth of 1.5 m. Lancer Park Pond has a permanent inlet and is almost completely surrounded by second growth forest. Daulton Pond is a SIZE ha headwater pond with a earth dam and a maximum depth of 3.2 m. Daulton Pond does not have a permanent inlet and is likely partially spring–fed. The riparian zone of Daulton Pond is approximately 50% second growth forest and 50% mowed grass. The littoral zone of Daulton Pond is mostly covered in an unidentified reed and cattails (Typha sp.). Woodland Court Pond is a SIZE ha pond with an earth dam that is drained by a stand–pipe. The pond has a permanent and a maximum depth of 2 m and a riparan zone that is about 30% second growth forest. The remaining portion of the riparian zone is minimally landscaped disturbed land associated with an apartment complex. Approximately 50% of the littoral zone of Woodland Court Pond is a patch of cattail (Typha sp.). Campus Pond is a SIZE ha constructed stormwater pond with a permanent inlet that is drained by a stand–pipe. Campus Pond has a maximum depth of 0.5 m but the basin is enclosed by a concrete wall, so it has no natural littoral zone and is nearly uniform in depth. Campus Pond is surrounded by landscaping that consists of small trees and mowed grass. Wilkes Lake is a SIZE ha man–made pond with a maximum depth of 2 m. Wilkes Lake has a permanent inlet that drains a wetland and a stand–pipe. Approximately 90% of the lake shoreline is second growth forest and the remaining area is mowed grass.

Coarse Particulate Matter Density

To estimate the density of the CPOM in small ponds in central Virgina we used an Ekman dredge to collect sediment samples from the littoral and open water regions of Daulton Pond, Lancer Park Pond, Woodland Court Pond, and Wilkes Lake. We collected 2 replicate samples from 3 representative locations in the littoral zone and open water portions for Daulton Pond, Woodland Court Pond, and Wilkes Lake on 13 May 2013, 14 May 2013, and 14 June 2013 respectively. We collected 3 replicate samples each from a single littoral and a single open water location in Lancer Park Pond on 20 March 2013. Finaly we collected a single sample from 3 littoral locations and 6 open water locations in Wilkes Lake on 20 Febuary 2013. In all cases littoral samples were collected between approximately 5 and 20 m from the shoreline but the actual distance was not recorded. The open water samples were collected relatively close to the center of the ponds.

The contents of the ekman was homogeinzed in a plastic basin and a 10 ml sample of the fine sediments was collected with a syringe and placed in a pre–weighed 20 ml glass scintillation vial and dried at 50o C for at least 24 h. The remaining material in the basin was sieved through a 250 \(\mu m\) mesh in the field and the material retained by the sieve was preserved in 70% (v:v) ethanol and transported back to the lab. In the lab the preserved material was passed through a 1 mm sieve and all retained material was dried at 50 oC for 48 h and homogenized with a mortar and pestal. The dried fine sediments and a subsample of the homogenized CPOM was ashed at 550 oC for 4 h to determine the proportion of organic matter in the sample via loss on ignition (LOI). To calculate the ash–free–dry–mass (AFDM) of the total CPOM of the sample the total dry mass was multiplied by the proportion of organic matter in the sample. The areal density of CPOM in the pond was then estimated by normalizing the AFDM of the CPOM to a square meter. We did not estimate the areal mass of organic matter in the fine sediments.