Temporal dynamics of seston: a recurring nighttime peak and seasonal shifts in composition in a stream ecosystem

350 210 Stroud Water Research Center

Richardson, D.C., L.A. Kaplan, J.D. Newbold, and A.K. Aufdenkampe. 2009. Limnology and Oceanography 54(1):344–354.



We measured the baseflow concentration and composition of seston and suspended particulate organic carbon (POC) over a 1-yr period in White Clay Creek, a third-order stream in the southeastern Pennsylvania Piedmont, to assess temporal variability in seston concentration and quality at seasonal and diel timescales. Each month, we sampled stream water under baseflow conditions every 1.5 h over a 24-h period and measured seston and POC concentrations, carbon composition, pigment content, and 13C isotopic ratios. Seston and POC concentrations exhibited a strong diel pattern; nighttime concentrations exceeded daytime concentrations by 80% and 43%, respectively. Suspended chlorophyll a concentrations did not exhibit a diel pattern. We attribute the diel pattern of seston concentration to bioturbation by the nocturnal stream community, including crayfish, amphibians, eels, and macroinvertebrates. Seasonally, carbon content of seston increased from 9% throughout most of the year to 15% during November, December, and March, while seston δ13C was depleted in the late fall and enriched in early spring months relative to the rest of the year. Chlorophyll a and pheophytin a concentrations in seston peaked during the early spring. Seasonal patterns in seston and POC composition reflect cycles of autumnal leaf litter inputs and vernal algal production. Bioturbation and shifts in organic carbon inputs mediate changes in POC quality and fluxes, which affect the bioavailability of POC and ultimately influence rates of heterotrophic respiration.


NSF Award No. DEB-0424681 Title: LTREB: Stream ecosystem structure and function within a maturing deciduous forest. Duration: August 2004–July 2009. Principal Investigator: L. A. Kaplan. Co-principal investigators: A.K. Aufdenkampe, T. L. Bott, J.K. Jackson and J. D. Newbold.