Distinguishing dynamics of dissolved organic matter components in a forested stream using kinetic enrichments

Brian D. Lutz, Emily S. Bernhardt, Brian J. Roberts, Rose M. Cory and Patrick J. Mulholland

Limnol. Oceanogr., 57(1), 2012, 76-89 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2012.57.1.0076

ABSTRACT: Traditional methods for investigating stream solute biogeochemistry measure longitudinal rates of uptake by increasing either the concentration or isotopic composition of solutes. These methods cannot be applied to dissolved organic matter (DOM) because we cannot replicate the heterogeneous native DOM pool. We explored an alternative approach, attempting to displace or enhance benthic uptake of native DOM by supplying an exogenous source of labile carbon or by enriching the stream with inorganic nitrogen. This approach allows us to measure uptake rates of enriched solutes, as well as changes in the concentration and composition of native DOM resulting from the experimental manipulations. We examined DOM composition using fluorescence characterization. We were able to elicit changes in the chemical composition of native DOM by differentially altering the dynamics of autotrophic production and heterotrophic uptake within the second-order reach of Walker Branch, a well-studied stream in eastern Tennessee. Supplying heterotrophs with labile carbon resulted in an increase in fluorescence associated with terrestrially derived DOM. Stimulating algae by adding inorganic nitrogen increased autochthonous production and indirectly displaced heterotrophic demand for terrestrial DOM due to increased in-stream production of bioavailable DOM. While we were able to alter the composition of the native DOM pool, we observed little change in DOM concentrations. The ability to differentiate between DOM subcomponents provides insight into processes controlling DOM production and consumption that cannot be gained by treating DOM as a single bulk pool.

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