Spatial variability in nutrient concentration and biofilm nutrient limitation in an urban watershed

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Biological Sciences

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Nutrient enrichment threatens river ecosystem health in urban watersheds, but the influence of urbanization on spatial variation in nutrient concentrations and nutrient limitation of biofilm activity are infrequently measured simultaneously. In summer 2009, we used synoptic sampling to measure spatial patterns of nitrate (NO3), ammonium (NH4+), and soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) concentration, flux, and instantaneous yield throughout the Bronx River watershed within New York City and adjacent suburbs. We also quantified biofilm response to addition of NO3, phosphate (PO43−), and NO3 + PO43− on organic and inorganic surfaces in the river mainstem and tributaries. Longitudinal variation in NO3 was low and related to impervious surface cover across sub-watersheds, but spatial variation in NH4+ and SRP was higher and unrelated to sub-watershed land-use. Biofilm respiration on organic surfaces was frequently limited by PO43− or NO3 + PO43−, while primary production on organic and inorganic surfaces was nutrient-limited at just one site. Infrequent NO3 limitation and low spatial variability of NO3 throughout the watershed suggested saturation of biological N demand. For P, both higher biological demand and point-sources contributed to greater spatial variability. Finally, a comparison of our data to synoptic studies of forested, temperate watersheds showed lower spatial variation of N and P in urban watersheds. Reduced spatial variation in nutrients as a result of biological saturation may represent an overlooked effect of urbanization on watershed ecology, and may influence urban stream biota and downstream environments.


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

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