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Department of Biological Sciences


Rates of nitrogen (N) cycling processes like denitrification and dinitrogen (N2) fixation, which together are the primary contributors to N2 flux rates from surface waters, may change at different time scales from seasons to weeks to days. Yet, we know little about the magnitude, mechanisms or drivers of these temporal changes, especially at shorter daily and weekly timescales. Quantifying variation in rates and drivers across temporal scales is essential to understand how nutrient cycling processes operate in aquatic ecosystems and predict how they may respond to shifting seasonal dynamics caused by global change (i.e., earlier snowmelt and extreme weather events). This study quantified denitrification and N2 fixation rates seasonally and daily in a northern temperate river, and explored how environmental conditions such as discharge, light, and N and phosphorus (P) concentrations were related to that variation at different time scales. We measured denitrification and N2 fixation rates on biweekly and daily intervals at a single 20-m long sampling reach in the Pilgrim River in Michigan's Upper Peninsula from May 2017 through May 2019. We found high rates of daily change (difference in rate from one day to the next) for both processes in all seasons (maximum daily change 5,690 μg N/m2/h for denitrification and 38 μg N/m2/h for N2 fixation). No detectable differences in rates among seasons were detected using Multiple Response Permutation Procedure (MRPP). Day-to-day variation did not change before and after elevated discharge events, including a 1,000-year flood that occurred in June 2018. Partial least squares (PLS) regression identified total dissolved N, dissolved organic N, and ammonium as important predictors of denitrification and N2 fixation, but explained only 15–28% of the variation in all measured rates. The unexpectedly high daily variation and lack of seasonal difference in rates found in this study demonstrate the need to use caution when studying these processes and/or extrapolating rates across time scales, as discrete and infrequent measurements may be misleading.

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© 2022 Nevorski and Marcarelli. Publisher’s version of record:

Publication Title

Frontiers in Water

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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