Nitrogen spiraling in stream ecosystems spanning a gradient of chronic nitrogen loading
Earl, Stevan Ross
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This dissertation is a study of the relationships between nitrogen (N) availability and spiraling (the paired processes of nutrient cycling and advective transport) in stream ecosystems. Anthropogenic activities have greatly increased rates of N loading to aquatic ecosystems. However, streams may be important sites for retention, removal, and transformation of N. In order to identify controls on NO3-N spiraling in anthropogenically impacted streams, I examined relationships among NO3-N spiraling and a suite of chemical, physical, and biological variables in streams spanning a gradient of N concentration. Across all streams, gross primary production (GPP) accounted for most NO3-N demand. Uptake of NO3-N was also related to GPP but was limited by N availability when N concentrations were low. A combination of GPP and NO3-N explained 80% of the variance in uptake. In chapter 3, I conducted a series of short-term nutrient releases in which streamwater NO3-N concentration was incrementally elevated to identify conditions leading to saturation of uptake capacity. Four of six study streams showed signs of N limitation whereas there was no significant change in uptake with increasing NO3-N amendment in two streams, suggesting N saturation. Proximity to saturation was generally correlated to N concentration but was also predicted by the ratio of N:P. My results suggest complex relationships between N spiraling and availability that depend on resident biota and other limiting factors. In chapter 4, I examined nutrient spiraling methodology by comparing differences between ambient and amendment-derived NO3-N spiraling metrics. I quantified spiraling metrics during a short-term NO3-N amendment and under ambient conditions using a stable isotope (15NO3-N) tracer. Uptake lengths measured during amendments were consistently longer than ambient uptake lengths. Amendment-derived NO3-N uptake velocity and uptake were underestimated relative to ambient conditions. Using a technique to estimate ambient uptake length extrapolated from the relationship between uptake length and nutrient amendment concentration for a series of amendments at different concentrations, I found that extrapolated uptake lengths were generally better predictors of ambient uptake lengths than amendment-derived uptake lengths but the technique was less effective in high N streams that showed signs of weak N limitation.
- Doctoral Dissertations