Detrital inputs into ecosystems vary in quantity and quality (e.g., plant litter vs carrion). Variability in detrital quantity and quality potentially affects consumer biomass and rates of organic matter (OM) breakdown. We used cave streams to test 2 linked hypotheses regarding the influence of total detrital inputs on consumer biomass and the breakdown of high-quality carrion detritus. First, we hypothesized that cave systems with higher total OM availability would support a higher biomass of consumers. Second, we predicted that higher consumer biomass would cause faster carrion breakdown rates. To test these hypotheses, we quantified macroinvertebrate biomass and breakdown rates (k, d−1) of carrion (mouse carcasses, Mus musculus) in 4 cave streams in northeastern Alabama and southeastern Tennessee (USA) that varied in total OM storage. We estimated carrion breakdown rates in coarse- and fine-mesh packs (10-mm and 500-µm mesh size) to isolate the influence of scavenging by crayfish. Macroinvertebrate biomass (excluding crayfish) in carrion packs was positively correlated with OM storage, but neither macroinvertebrate biomass (excluding crayfish) nor OM storage were strong predictors of carrion breakdown rates. Crayfish biomass was not correlated with total OM storage but was positively correlated with coarse-mesh breakdown rates. Our study illustrates the influence of community structure and consumer biomass on detrital breakdown rates in cave ecosystems. However, determining how detrital inputs structure cave communities will require further study.
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