Nutrient availability and phytoplankton nutrient limitation across a gradient of atmospheric nitrogen deposition

James Elser, Marcia Kyle, Laura Steuer, Koren R. Nydick, Jill S. Baron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

105 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition to lakes and watersheds has been increasing steadily due to various anthropogenic activities. Because such anthropogenic N is widely distributed, even lakes relatively removed from direct human disturbance are potentially impacted. However, the effects of increased atmospheric N deposition on lakes are not well documented, We examined phytoplankton biomass, the absolute and relative abundance of limiting nutrients (N and phosphorus [P]), and phytoplankton nutrient limitation in alpine lakes of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado (USA) receiving elevated (>6 kg N·ha-1·yr-1) or low (<2 kg N·ha-1·yr-1) levels of atmospheric N deposition. Highdeposition lakes had higher NO3-N and total N concentrations and higher total N : total P ratios. Concentrations of chlorophyll and seston carbon (C) were 2-2.5 times higher in highdeposition relative to low-deposition lakes, while high-deposition lakes also had higher seston C:N and C:P (but not N:P) ratios. Short-term enrichment bioassays indicated a qualitative shift in the nature of phytoplankton nutrient limitation due to N deposition, as highdeposition lakes had an increased frequency of primary P limitation and a decreased frequency and magnitude of response to N and to combined N and P enrichment. Thus elevated atmospheric N deposition appears to have shifted nutrient supply from a relatively balanced but predominantly N-deficient regime to a more consistently P-limited regime in Colorado alpine lakes. This adds to accumulating evidence that sustained N deposition may have important effects on lake phytoplankton communities and plankton-based food webs by shifting the quantitative and qualitative nature of nutrient limitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3062-3073
Number of pages12
JournalEcology
Volume90
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2009

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nutrient limitation
nutrient availability
phytoplankton
lakes
nitrogen
lake
nutrients
seston
nutrient
Rocky Mountain region
anthropogenic activities
food webs
food web
plankton
bioassay
relative abundance
chlorophyll
human activity
bioassays
watershed

Keywords

  • Alpine lakes
  • Colorado (usa)
  • Nitrogen
  • Nitrogen deposition
  • Nutrient limitation
  • Phosphorus
  • Phytoplankton
  • Rocky mountains

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

Cite this

Nutrient availability and phytoplankton nutrient limitation across a gradient of atmospheric nitrogen deposition. / Elser, James; Kyle, Marcia; Steuer, Laura; Nydick, Koren R.; Baron, Jill S.

In: Ecology, Vol. 90, No. 11, 11.2009, p. 3062-3073.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Elser, James ; Kyle, Marcia ; Steuer, Laura ; Nydick, Koren R. ; Baron, Jill S. / Nutrient availability and phytoplankton nutrient limitation across a gradient of atmospheric nitrogen deposition. In: Ecology. 2009 ; Vol. 90, No. 11. pp. 3062-3073.
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