Untangling the complex issue of dissolved organic carbon uptake: a stable isotope approach

350 210 Stroud Water Research Center

Kaplan, L.A., T.N. Wiegner, J.D. Newbold, P.H. Ostrom, and H. Gandhi. 2008. Freshwater Biology 53:855–864.

doi: 101111/j.1365-2427.2007.01941x


  1. We estimated uptake of stream water dissolved organic carbon (DOC) through a whole-stream addition of a 13C-DOC tracer coupled with laboratory measurements of bioavailability of the tracer and stream water DOC.
  2. The tracer, a leachate of 13C-labelled tree tissues, was added to the head waters of White Clay Creek, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., over a 2-h period and followed 1.27 km downstream to generate mass transfer coefficients for DOC lability classes within the tracer.
  3. From the longitudinal 13C uptake curve, we resolved labile and semi-labile DOC classes within the 13C-DOC tracer comprising 82% and 18% of the tracer respectively.
  4. Plug-flow laboratory bioreactors colonized and maintained with stream water were used to determine the concentration of stream water DOC fractions that had a similar lability to the labile and semi-labile classes within the tracer and we assumed that stream water DOC and tracer DOC with comparable lability fractions in the bioreactors behaved similarly in the stream, i.e. they had the same mass transfer coefficients.
  5. A small fraction (8.6%) of the stream water DOC was labile, travelling 238 m downstream before being taken up. The remaining bioavailable stream water DOC was semi-labile and transported 4.5 km downstream before being taken up. These uptake lengths suggest that the labile DOC is an energy source within a stream reach, while the semi-labile DOC is exported out of the reach to larger rivers and the downstream estuary, where it may provide energy for marine microbial communities or simply be exported to the oceans.


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.