Decomposition of Acer Macrophyllum Leaves in the Profundal Zone of Lake Whatcom, Washington

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Environmental Science

First Advisor

Matthews, Robin A., 1952-

Second Advisor

Peele, Emily R.

Third Advisor

Landis, Wayne G.


Detrital metabolism has become increasingly recognized as a vital component of lacustrine ecosystems. Degradation of particulate organic matter occurring at the sediment-water interface provides a stable exchange of energy and nutrients that is less susceptible to oscillating environmental conditions than is the biota of the overlying waters. During this study, the common litterbag method was employed to expose bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) leaves to benthic degradation. From October 1992 through March 1993, water quality and litter decay were monitored at three sites in the profundal zone of Lake Whatcom, Washington. A total of twelve physical and chemical water quality parameters were measured at the sites. Leaf analyses included weight loss, electron transport system activity (ETS), protein content, nitrogen content and carbon content.

Results showed that site differences in water quality occurred primarily before and shortly following lake turnover. Changes in leaf quality included decreased weight, carbon content and protein content, and increased ETS activity and nitrogen content over time. Significant intersite differences in leaf decay occurred but only differences in protein content of the leaf packs could be statistically correlated to water quality.


Detrital metabolism, Benthic degradation, Lake Whatcom, Water quality. Lacustrine ecosystems

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