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Sci Total Environ. 2006 Jul 15;365(1-3):66-83. Epub 2006 Apr 27.

How green is my river? A new paradigm of eutrophication in rivers.

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  • 1Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Winfrith Technology Centre, Winfrith Newburgh, Dorchester, Dorset DT2 8ZD, United Kingdom.


Although the process of eutrophication is reasonably well understood in lakes, there is currently no conceptual understanding of how eutrophication develops in rivers. This issue is addressed here. A review of the main processes controlling the development of eutrophication in lakes has been carried out as a precursor to considering the effect in rivers. The importance of hydraulic flushing in controlling algal growth suggests that short-retention-time rivers will show different effects compared to long retention-time, impounded rivers. The latter are likely to operate like lakes, moving from macrophyte domination to phytoplankton domination whereas the former move to benthic and filamentous algal domination. Subsequently, a conceptual model of the development of eutrophic conditions in short-retention-time rivers is developed. Although there is general agreement in the literature that an increase in nutrients, particularly phosphorus, is a pre-requisite for the eutrophic conditions to develop, there is little evidence in short-retention-time rivers that the plant (macro and micro) biomass is limited by nutrients and a good case can be made that the interaction of hydraulic drag with light limitation is the main controlling factor. The light limitation is brought about by the development of epiphytic algal films on the macrophyte leaves. The implications of this conceptual model are discussed and a series of observable effects are predicted, which should result if the model is correct.

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