The oxygen-18 isotope approach for measuring aquatic metabolism in high productivity waters

Tobias, Craig R., John Karl Böhlke, Judson W. Harvey

Limnol. Oceanogr., 52(4), 2007, 1439-1453 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2007.52.4.1439

ABSTRACT: We examined the utility of δ18O2 measurements in estimating gross primary production (P), community respiration (R), and net metabolism (P : R) through diel cycles in a productive agricultural stream located in the midwestern U.S.A. Large diel swings in O2 (±200 µmol L-1) were accompanied by large diel variation in δ18O2 (±10‰). Simultaneous gas transfer measurements and laboratory-derived isotopic fractionation factors for O2 during respiration (αr) were used in conjunction with the diel monitoring of O2 and δ18O2 to calculate P, R, and P :R using three independent isotope-based methods. These estimates were compared to each other and against the traditional ‘‘open-channel diel O2-change’’ technique that lacked δ18O2. A principal advantage of the δ18O2 measurements was quantification of diel variation in R, which increased by up to 30% during the day, and the diel pattern in R was variable and not necessarily predictable from assumed temperature effects on R. The P, R, and P :R estimates calculated using the isotope-based approaches showed high sensitivity to the assumed system fractionation factor (αr). The optimum modeled ar values (0.986-0.989) were roughly consistent with the laboratory-derived values, but larger (i.e., less fractionation) than αr values typically reported for enzyme-limited respiration in open water environments. Because of large diel variation in O2, P :R could not be estimated by directly applying the typical steady-state solution to the O2 and 18O-O2 mass balance equations in the absence of gas transfer data. Instead, our results indicate that a modified steady-state solution (the daily mean value approach) could be used with time-averaged O2 and δ18O2 measurements to calculate P :R independent of gas transfer. This approach was applicable under specifically defined, net heterotrophic conditions. The diel cycle of increasing daytime R and decreasing nighttime R was only partially explained by temperature variation, but could be consistent with the diel production/consumption of labile dissolved organic carbon from photosynthesis.

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