The effect of land use on dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen uptake in streams

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Biological Sciences

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1. Agricultural and urban land use may increase dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) concentrations in streams and saturate biotic nutrient demand, but less is known about their impacts on the cycling of organic nutrients. To assess these impacts we compared the uptake of DIN (as ammonium, NH4+), dissolved organic carbon (DOC, as acetate), and dissolved organic nitrogen (DON, as glycine) in 18 low-gradient headwater streams in southwest Michigan draining forested, agricultural, or urban land-use types. Over 3 years, we quantified uptake in two streams in each of the three land-use types during three seasons (spring, summer and autumn).

2. We found significantly higher NH4+ demand (expressed as uptake velocity, Vf) in urban compared to forested streams and NH4+Vf was greater in spring compared to summer and autumn. Acetate Vf was significantly higher than NH4+ and glycine Vf, but neither acetate nor glycine Vf were influenced by land-use type or season.

3. We examined the interaction between NH4+ and acetate demand by comparing simultaneous short-term releases of both solutes to releases of each solute individually. Acetate Vf did not change during the simultaneous release with NH4+, but NH4+Vf was significantly higher with increased acetate. Thus, labile DOC Vf was not limited by the availability of NH4+, but NH4+Vf was limited by the availability of labile DOC. In contrast, neither glycine nor NH4+Vf changed when released simultaneously indicating either that overall N-uptake was saturated or that glycine and NH4+ uptake were controlled by different factors.

4. Our results suggest that labile DOC and DON uptake can be equivalent to, or even higher than NH4+ uptake, a solute known to be highly bioreactive, but unlike NH4+ uptake, may not differ among land-use types and seasons. Moreover, downstream export of nitrogen may be exacerbated by limitation of NH4+ uptake by the availability of labile DOC in headwater streams from the agricultural Midwestern United States. Further research is needed to identify the factors that influence cycling of DOC and DON in streams.


This article was originally published in Freshwater Biology. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Freshwater Biology


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