Nutrient spiralling in streams: implications for nutrient limitation and invertebrate activity

350 210 Stroud Water Research Center

Newbold, J.D., R.V. O’Neill, J.W. Elwood, and W. Van Winkle. 1982. The American Naturalist 120(5):628–652.

doi: 10.1086/284017


Nutrient cycling in streams occurs in conjunction with downstream transport as spatially distributed process that has been termed spiralling. The intensity of reutilization of nutrients as they pass downstream can be quantified in terms of the length of stream required for a nutrient atom to complete one (abstract) cycle; this distance is termed the spiralling length. Our model for steady-state spiralling of a limiting nutrient predicts that most of the downstream transport of nutrient occurs in particulate or unavailable form when nutrient limitation is severe; in this case, transportability of particulates is a major determinant of spiralling length. On the other hand, when nutrient limitation is moderated by density-dependent mechanisms, transport in the dissolved phase dominates, and transportability of particles has little influence on spiralling length. The potential role of invertebrate consumers in controlling spiralling was investigated by considering their influence on regeneration, transportability, and uptake of nutrients. Functional processes of grazing and filter feeding appear most likely to shorten spiralling length when nutrient limitation is severe, while the process of shredding is more likely to shorten spiralling length when nutrient limitation is weak. In some cases there may be levels of consumer activity at which spiralling length is minimized.