, Volume 11, Issue 5, pp 670-687
Date: 14 May 2008

Inter-annual, Annual, and Seasonal Variation of P and N Retention in a Perennial and an Intermittent Stream

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Headwater streams represent the key sites of nutrient retention, but little is known about temporal variation in this important process. We used monthly measurements over 2 years to examine variation in retention of soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) and ammonium (NH 4 + ) in two Mediterranean headwater streams with contrasting hydrological regimes (that is, perennial versus intermittent). Differences in retention between streams were more evident for NH 4 + , likely due to strong differences in the potential for nitrogen limitation. In both streams, nutrient-retention efficiency was negatively influenced by abrupt discharge changes, whereas gradual seasonal changes in SRP demand were partially controlled by riparian vegetation dynamics through changes in organic matter and light availability. Nutrient concentrations were below saturation in the two streams; however, SRP demand increased relative to NH 4 + demand in the intermittent stream as the potential for phosphorus limitation increased (that is, higher dissolved inorganic nitrogen:SRP ratio). Unexpectedly, variability in nutrient retention was not greater in the intermittent stream, suggesting high resilience of biological communities responsible for nutrient uptake. Within-stream variability of all retention metrics, however, increased with increasing time scale. A review of studies addressing temporal variation of nutrient retention at different time scales supports this finding, indicating increasing variability of nutrient retention with concomitant increases in the variability of environmental factors from the diurnal to the inter-annual scale. Overall, this study emphasizes the significance of local climate conditions in regulating nutrient retention and points to potential effects of changes in land use and climate regimes on the functioning of stream ecosystems.