Estimation of stream nutrient uptake from nutrient addition experiments

Robert A. Payn, Jackson R. Webster, Patrick J. Mulholland, H. Maurice Valett, Walter K. Dodds

Limnol. Oceanogr. Methods 3:174-182 (2005) | DOI: 10.4319/lom.2005.3.174

ABSTRACT: Nutrient uptake in streams is often quantified by determining nutrient uptake length. However, current methods for measuring nutrient uptake length are often impractical, expensive, or demonstrably incorrect. We have developed a new method to estimate ambient nutrient uptake lengths using field experiments involving several levels of nutrient addition. Data analysis involves plotting nutrient addition uptake lengths versus added concentration and extrapolating to the negative ambient concentration. This method is relatively easy, inexpensive, and based on sound theoretical development. It is more accurate than the commonly used method involving a single nutrient addition. The utility of the method is supported by field studies directly comparing our new method with isotopic tracer methods for determining uptake lengths of phosphorus, ammonium, and nitrate. Our method also provides parameters for comparing potential nutrient limitation among streams.