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Balancing macronutrient stoichiometry to alleviate eutrophication

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/09/2018
<mark>Journal</mark>Science of the Total Environment
Volume634
Number of pages9
Pages (from-to)439-447
Publication statusPublished
Early online date6/04/18
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Reactive nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) inputs to surface waters modify aquatic environments, affect public health and recreation. Source controls dominate eutrophication management, whilst biological regulation of nutrients is largely neglected, although aquatic microbial organisms have huge potential to process nutrients. The stoichiometric ratio of organic carbon (OC) to N to P atoms should modulate heterotrophic pathways of aquatic nutrient processing, as high OC availability favours aquatic microbial processing. Heterotrophic microbial processing removes N by denitrification and captures N and P as organically-complexed, less eutrophying forms. With a global data synthesis, we show that the atomic ratios of bioavailable dissolved OC to either N or P in rivers with urban and agricultural land use are often distant from a “microbial optimum”. This OC-deficiency relative to high availabilities of N and P likely overwhelms within-river heterotrophic processing. We propose that the capability of streams and rivers to retain N and P may be improved by active stoichiometric rebalancing. Although autotrophic OC production contributes to heterotrophic rates substantial control on nutrient processing from allochthonous OC is documented for N and an emerging field for P. Hence, rebalancing should be done by reconnecting appropriate OC sources such as wetlands and riparian forests that have become disconnected from rivers concurrent with agriculture and urbanisation. However, key knowledge gaps require research prior to the safe implementation of this approach in management: (i) to evaluate system responses to catchment inputs of dissolved OC forms and amounts relative to internal production of autotrophic dissolved OC and aquatic and terrestrial particulate OC and (ii) evaluate risk factors in anoxia-mediated P desorption with elevated OC scenarios. Still, we find stoichiometric rebalancing through reconnecting landscape beneficial OC sources has considerable potential for river management to alleviate eutrophication, improve water quality and aquatic ecosystem health, if augmenting nutrient source control.