Response of Periphytic Algae to Gradients in Nitrogen and Phosphorus in Streamside Mesocosms

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In this study we manipulated both nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations in stream mesocosms to develop quantitative relationships between periphytic algal growth rates and peak biomass with inorganic N and P concentrations. Stream water from Harts Run, a 2nd order stream in a pristine catchment, was constantly added to 36 stream-side stream mesocosms in low volumes and then recirculated to reduce nutrient concentrations. Clay tiles were colonized with periphyton in the mesocosms. Nutrients were added to create P and N concentrations ranging from less than Harts Run concentrations to 128 μg SRP l-1 and 1024 μg NO3-N l-1. Algae and water were sampled every 3 days during colonization until periphyton communities reached peak biomass and then sloughed. Nutrient depletion was substantial in the mesocosms. Algae accumulated in all streams, even streams in which no nutrients were added. Nutrient limitation of algal growth and peak biomass accrual was observed in both low P and low N conditions. The Monod model best explained relationships between P and N concentrations and algal growth and peak biomass. Algal growth was 90% of maximum rates or higher in nutrient concentrations 16 μg SRP l-1 and 86 μg DIN l-1. These saturating concentrations for growth rates were 3-5 times lower than concentrations needed to produce maximum biomass. Modified Monod models using both DIN and SRP were developed to explain algal growth rates and peak biomass, which respectively explained 44 and 70% of the variance in algal response.

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