Effects of N:P ratio and total nutrient concentration on stream periphyton community structure, biomass, and elemental composition

Stelzer, Robert S., Gary A. Lamberti

Limnol. Oceanogr., 46(2), 2001, 356-367 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2001.46.2.0356

ABSTRACT: The effects of nutrient ratios on algal community structure and algal growth have been examined extensively in lakes and marine environments, but rarely in streams. We manipulated stream water N: P ratio (65 : 1, 17 : 1, 4 : 1) and total nutrient concentration (low and high) in a factorial experiment using once-through streamside flumes and measured responses in abundance, community structure, and elemental composition of periphyton communities. Early in the experiment, periphyton chlorophyll a and total algal biovolume were higher for treatments where N was added (high total nutrient concentration) but were not affected by N: P ratio. This response is contrary to our prediction that P would limit periphyton growth based on the high N: P ratio in the source water and unamended periphyton mats. The relative abundance of nine of eleven common algal taxa was affected by N: P ratio, total nutrient concentration, or both. Overall, algal community structure was more sensitive than bulk measures of periphyton abundance to changes in N: P ratio and total nutrient concentration. Periphyton %N and %P increased with the N and P concentration of stream water, and periphyton N: P tracked stream water N: P ratio. Responses in periphyton chemical composition to nutrients could affect the food quality of periphyton for consumers.

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