Netherland Journal of Aquatic Ecology

, Volume 27, Issue 1, pp 3–9 | Cite as

Microcommunities and microgradients: Linking nutrient regeneration, microbial mutualism, and high sustained aquatic primary production

  • Robert G. Wetzel


Nutrient regeneration is essential to sustained primary production in the aquatic environment because of coupled physical and metabolic gradients. The commonly evaluated ecosystem perspective of nutrient regeneration, as is illustrated among planktonic paradigms of lake ecosystems, functions only at macrotemporal and spatial scales.

Most inland waters are small and shallow. Consequently, most organic matter of these waters is derived from photosynthesis of emergent, floating-leaved, and submersed higher plants and microflora associated with living substrata and detritus, including sediments, as well as terrestrial sources. The dominant primary productivity of inland aquatic ecosystems is not planktonic, but rather is associated with surfaces. The high sustained rates of primary production among sessile communities are possible because of the intensive internal recycling of nutrients, including carbon.

Steep gradients exist within these attached microbial communities that (a) require rapid, intensive recycling of carbon, phosphorus, nitrogen, and other nutrients between producers, particulate and dissolved detritus, and bacteria and protists: (b) augment internal community recycling and losses with small external inputs of carbon and nutrients from the overlying water or from the supporting substrata; and (c) encourage maximal conservation of nutrients. Examples of microenvironmental recycling of carbon, phosphorus, and oxygen among epiphytic, epipelic, and epilithic communities are explained. Recalcitrant dissolved organic compounds from decomposition can serve both as carbon and energy substrates as well as be selectively inhibitory to microbial metabolism and nutrient recycling. Rapid recycling of nutrient and organic carbon within micro-environments operates at all levels, planktonic as well as attached, and is mandatory for high sustained productivity.


nutrient regeneration primary production gradients 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert G. Wetzel
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesThe University of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA

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