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Department of Biological Sciences


Successful eutrophication control strategies need to address the limiting nutrient. We conducted a battery of laboratory and in situ nutrient-limitation tests with waters collected from 9 streams in an agricultural region of the upper Snake River basin, Idaho, USA. Laboratory tests used the green alga Raphidocelis subcapitata, the macrophyte Lemna minor (duckweed) with native epiphytes, and in situ nutrient-limitation tests of periphyton were conducted with nutrient-diffusing substrates (NDS). In the duckweed/epiphyte test, P saturation occurred when concentrations reached about 100 μg/L. Chlorophyll a in epiphytic periphyton was stimulated at low P additions and by about 100 μg/L P, epiphytic periphyton chlorophyll a appeared to be P saturated. Both duckweed and epiphyte response patterns with total N were weaker but suggested a growth stimulation threshold for duckweed when total N concentrations exceeded about 300 μg/L and approached saturation at the highest N concentration tested, 1300 μg/L. Nutrient uptake by epiphytes and macrophytes removed up to 70 and 90% of the N and P, respectively. The green algae and the NDS nutrient-limitation test results were mostly congruent; N and P co-limitation was the most frequent result for both test series. Across all tests, when N:P molar ratios >30 (mass ratios >14), algae or macrophyte growth was P limited; N limitation was observed at N:P molar ratios up to 23 (mass ratios up to 10). A comparison of ambient periphyton chlorophyll a concentrations with chlorophyll a accrued on control artificial substrates in N-limited streams, suggests that total N concentrations associated with a periphyton chlorophyll a benchmark for desirable or undesirable conditions for recreation would be about 600 to 1000 μg/L total N, respectively. For P-limited streams, the corresponding benchmark concentrations were about 50 to 90 μg/L total P, respectively. Our approach of integrating controlled experiments and matched biomonitoring field surveys was cost effective and more informative than either approach alone.

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