The effect of grazing intensity on phosphorus spiralling in autotrophic streams

350 210 Stroud Water Research Center

Mulholland, P.J., J.D. Newbold, J.W. Elwood, and C.L. Hom. 1983. Oecologia 58:358–366.

doi: 10.1007/BF00385236


The effect of grazing on primary productivity and phosphorus cycling in autotrophic streams was studied using the snail Goniobasis clavaeformes. Snails were added to each of three replicate laboratory stream channels, receiving once-through flow of groundwater, in densities of 2.1, 3.0, and 4.2 g ash free dry mass (AFDM)/m2. A fourth channel received no snails and served as an ungrazed control.

Presence of snail grazers resulted in a large reduction in aufwuchs biomass, primary productivity, and biotic phosphorus uptake; a modest reduction in fine particulate organic matter (FPOM); and an increase in the fraction of stream particulate organic matter (POM) exported as seston. Although primary production and aufwuchs biomass continued to decline with increasing snail density, phosphorus uptake increased. This increased phosphorus uptake is attributed to abiotic sorption to inorganic surfaces exposed as a result of efficient removal of aufwuchs at high snail densities. Although snail densities were chosen to bracket the density measured in a natural stream, the experimental densities may result in considerably higher grazing pressure on aufwuchs due to the absence of alternate food sources (e.g., coarse particulate organic matter) usually found in natural streams.

Presence of snail grazers increased the spiralling length of phosphorus, primarily by reducing aufwuchs biomass and consequently reducing uptake of phosphorus from the water. Presence of snails also increased downstream transport velocity of phosphorus bound to organic particles. These results follow the patterns predicted in a previous theoretical analysis for mildly phosphorus-limited streams.

Research support was from the National Science Foundation’s Ecosystem Studies Program under Interagency Agreement No. DEB-81-03181, with the U.S. Department of Energy, under contract W-7405-eng-26 with Union Carbide Corportion

Publication No. 2118, Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory