Hydrologic and biotic influences on nitrate removal in a subtropical spring-fed river
Limnol. Oceanogr., 55(1), 2010, 249-263 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2010.55.1.0249
ABSTRACT: We use a long-term chemical and hydrologic record in combination with longitudinal sampling and high-frequency nitrate (NO3-) measurements from in situ sensors to describe temporal and spatial patterns of nitrogen (N) inputs and removal in the spring-fed Ichetucknee River (Columbia County, Florida) and to determine the hydrological, geomorphic, and biological factors that influence those dynamics. Over a 20-yr period of record, NO3-N removal averaged 118 kg N d-1 (0.77 g N m-2 d-1) over the upper 5 km of the Ichetucknee River. Three independent estimates of gross autotrophicNassimilation (from gross primary production, diel NO3- variation, and standing biomass) agreed closely but accounted for less than 20% of observed N removal. Longitudinal surveys indicate negligible or negative dissolved organic nitrogen and ammonium (NH4+) production, suggesting that denitrification is the predominant mechanism of N removal in this river. A positive relationship between discharge and the magnitude of NO3-N removal shows that interactions with the surrounding floodplain exert considerable influence at high flows, and longitudinal NO3- patterns indicate that N removal may be influenced by channel morphology. These results suggest a greater role for dissimilatory processes and hydrologic connectivity with hyporheic and floodplain sediments than has been previously recognized in highly productive spring-fed rivers of north Florida. While hydrologic variation is the primary determinant of variation in NO3- removal within the Ichetucknee River, comparison across systems indicates that biotic characteristics can cause significant deviation from predictions based on purely physical models of relationships between river size and N removal.