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Ecology. 2009 Sep;90(9):2556-66.

Nutrient enrichment alters storage and fluxes of detritus in a headwater stream ecosystem.

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Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602, USA.


Responses of detrital pathways to nutrients may differ fundamentally from pathways involving living plants: basal carbon resources can potentially decrease rather than increase with nutrient enrichment. Despite the potential for nutrients to accelerate heterotrophic processes and fluxes of detritus, few studies have examined detritus-nutrient dynamics at whole-ecosystem scales. We quantified organic matter (OM) budgets over three consecutive years in two detritus-based Appalachian (U.S.A.) streams. After the first year, we began enriching one stream with low-level nitrogen and phosphorus inputs. Subsequent effects of nutrients on outputs of different OM compartments were determined using randomized intervention analysis. Nutrient addition did not affect dissolved or coarse particulate OM export but had dramatic effects on fine particulate OM (FPOM) export at all discharges relative to the reference stream. After two years of enrichment, FPOM export was 340% higher in the treatment stream but had decreased by 36% in the reference stream relative to pretreatment export. Ecosystem respiration, the dominant carbon output in these systems, also increased in the treatment stream relative to the reference, but these changes were smaller in magnitude than those in FPOM export. Nutrient enrichment accelerated rates of OM processing, transformation, and export, potentially altering food-web dynamics and ecosystem stability in the long term. The results of our large-scale manipulation of a detrital ecosystem parallel those from analogous studies of soils, in which net loss of organic carbon has often been shown to result from experimental nutrient addition at the plot scale. Streams are useful model systems in which to test the effects of nutrients on ecosystem-scale detrital dynamics because they allow both the tracking of OM conversion along longitudinal continua and the integrated measurement of fluxes of transformed material through downstream sites.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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