Diel variations of nutrient retention and metabolism are coupled for ammonium but not for phosphorus in a lowland stream

Martí, Eugènia Feijoó, ClaudiaVilches, CarolinaFerreiro, NicolásGantes, PatriciaRanieri, ConstanzaTorremorell, AnaRodríguez Castro, María CarolinaGultemiriam, María LourdesGiorgi, AdonisSabater, Francesc. Freshwater Science 39 (2) : DOI: 10.1086/708933 (2020)  DIGITAL CSIC

In-stream nutrient retention is an important ecosystem function because it can regulate nutrient fate and export to downstream ecosystems. Temporal variation in nutrient retention in streams has been studied extensively at the annual and seasonal scale but less thoroughly at the diel scale. However, understanding temporal variability in nutrient uptake at the diel scale can increase understanding of the role of photoautotrophic primary production on nutrient uptake in streams, especially open-canopy streams. We hypothesized that nutrient retention mostly depends on autotrophic demand in open-canopy streams and that it varies following the diel pattern of gross primary production (GPP). We therefore evaluated the temporal variation in phosphate (PO43−) and ammonium (NH4+) uptake at a daily scale in a highly-productive Pampean stream that is dominated by a dense assemblage of macrophytes and filamentous algae. We conducted 6 slug additions of PO43− and NH4+ over a 24-h period and quantified reach-scale nutrient uptake concurrently with measurements of whole-stream metabolism and chemical variables during additions (including nitrates and nitrites). The study stream had extremely high uptake of PO43− and NH4+ (>90 and >75% retention of the P and N mass added, respectively). Uptake of PO43− did not vary throughout the day. Estimated PO43− uptake from GPP accounted for only a small fraction of observed PO43− uptake. Thus, another mechanism, such as heterotrophic demand by microbial assemblages or adsorption onto sediments, could also have contributed to PO43− uptake in the study stream. In contrast, NH4+ uptake clearly varied throughout the day. Up to 48% of the observed NH4+ uptake rate could be explained by NH4+ estimated from GPP, and NH4+ demand was positively associated with GPP, indicating a high dependence on photoautotrophic demand. An increase of nitrite (NO2−) concentration during additions (representing up to 70% of the added mass of NH4+) suggests that nitrification contributed to the diel pattern of NH4+ uptake. Our results indicate that nutrient uptake does not always rely on autotrophic demand in open-canopy streams and that other abiotic and dissimilatory mechanisms may explain the diel patterns of nutrient retention. In addition, our study highlights the need to measure uptake metrics throughout the day to obtain an accurate estimate of nutrient retention on a daily scale.