, Volume 620, Issue 1, pp 63-76

Nutrient limitation of biofilm biomass and metabolism in the Upper Snake River basin, southeast Idaho, USA

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Abstract

It is essential to know the nutrient limitation status of biofilms to understand how they may buffer uptake and export of nutrients from polluted watersheds. We tested the effects of nutrient additions on biofilm biomass (chlorophyll a, ash free dry mass (AFDM), and autotrophic index (AI, AFDM/chl a)) and metabolism via nutrient-diffusing substrate bioassays (control, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and N + P treatments) at 11 sites in the Upper Snake River basin (southeast Idaho, USA) that differed in the magnitude and extent of human-caused impacts. Water temperature, turbidity, and dissolved inorganic N concentrations all changed seasonally at the study sites, while turbidity and dissolved inorganic N and P also varied with impact level. Chl a and AI on control treatments suggested that the most heavily impacted sites supported more autotrophic biofilms than less-impacted sites, and that across all sites biofilms were more heterotrophic in autumn than in summer. Nutrient stimulation or suppression of biofilm biomass was observed for chl a in 59% of the experiments and for AFDM in 33%, and the most frequent response noted across all study sites was N limitation. P suppression of chl a was observed only at the most-impacted sites, while AFDM was never suppressed by nutrients. When nutrient additions did have significant effects on metabolism, they were driven by differences in biomass rather than by changes in metabolic rates. Our study demonstrated that biofilms in southeast Idaho rivers were primarily limited by N, but nutrient limitation was more frequent at sites with good water quality than at those with poor water quality. Additionally, heterotrophic and autotrophic biofilm components may respond differently to nutrient enrichment, and nutrient limitation of biofilm biomass should not be considered a surrogate for metabolism in these rivers.

Handling editor: D. Ryder