Nitrogen limitation of pond ecosystems on the plains of Eastern Colorado.

Published

Journal Article

Primary production in freshwater ecosystems is often limited by the availability of phosphorus (P), nitrogen (N), or a combination of both (NP co-limitation). While N fixation via heterocystous cyanobacteria can supply additional N, no comparable mechanism for P exists; hence P is commonly considered to be the predominant and ultimate limiting nutrient in freshwater ecosystems. However, N limitation can be maintained if P is supplied in stoichiometric excess of N (including N fixation). The main objective of this study was to examine patterns in nutrient limitation across a series of 21 vernal ponds in Eastern Colorado where high P fluxes are common. Across all ponds, water column dissolved inorganic N steadily decreased throughout the growth season due to biological demand while total dissolved P remained stable. The water column dissolved inorganic N to total dissolved P ratios suggested a transition from NP co-limitation to N limitation across the growth season. Periphyton and phytoplankton %C was strongly correlated with %N while %P was assimilated in excess of %N and %C in many ponds. Similarly, in nutrient addition bottle assays algae responded more strongly to N additions (11 out of 18 water bodies) than P additions (2 out of 18 water bodies) and responded most strongly when N and P were added in concert (12 out of 18 water bodies). Of the ponds that responded to nutrient addition, 92% exhibited some sort of N limitation while less than 8% were limited by P alone. Despite multiple lines of evidence for N limitation or NP co-limitation, N fixation rates were uniformly low across most ponds, most likely due to inhibition by water column nitrate. Within this set of 18 water bodies, N limitation or NP co-limitation is widespread due to the combination high anthropogenic P inputs and constrained N fixation rates.

Full Text

Cited Authors

  • Mischler, JA; Taylor, PG; Townsend, AR

Published Date

  • January 2014

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 9 / 5

Start / End Page

  • e95757 -

PubMed ID

  • 24824838

Pubmed Central ID

  • 24824838

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1932-6203

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1932-6203

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1371/journal.pone.0095757

Language

  • eng