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Nutrient spiraling in streams and river networks

350 210 Stroud Water Research Center

Ensign, S.H., and M.W. Doyle. 2006. Journal of Geophysical Research – Biogeosciences 111(G4):G04009.

doi: 10.1029/2005JG000114

Abstract

Over the past 3 decades, nutrient spiraling has become a unifying paradigm for stream biogeochemical research. This paper presents (1) a quantitative synthesis of the nutrient spiraling literature and (2) application of these data to elucidate trends in nutrient spiraling within stream networks. Results are based on 404 individual experiments on ammonium (NH4), nitrate (NO3), and phosphate (PO4) from 52 published studies. Sixty‐nine percent of the experiments were performed in first‐ and second‐order streams, and 31% were performed in third‐ to fifth‐order streams. Uptake lengths, Sw, of NH4 (median = 86 m) and PO4 (median = 96 m) were significantly different (α = 0.05) than NO3 (median = 236 m). Areal uptake rates of NH4 (median = 28 μg m−2 min−1) were significantly different than NO3 and PO4 (median = 15 and 14 μg m−2 min−1, respectively). There were significant differences among NH4, NO3, and PO4 uptake velocity (median = 5, 1, and 2 mm min−1, respectively). Correlation analysis results were equivocal on the effect of transient storage on nutrient spiraling. Application of these data to a stream network model showed that recycling (defined here as stream length ÷ Sw) of NH4 and NO3 generally increased with stream order, while PO4 recycling remained constant along a first‐ to fifth‐order stream gradient. Within this hypothetical stream network, cumulative NH4 uptake decreased slightly with stream order, while cumulative NO3 and PO4 uptake increased with stream order. These data suggest the importance of larger rivers to nutrient spiraling and the need to consider how stream networks affect nutrient flux between terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

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