Aquatic Sciences

, 73:485 | Cite as

Contraction, fragmentation and expansion dynamics determine nutrient availability in a Mediterranean forest stream

  • D. von Schiller
  • V. Acuña
  • D. Graeber
  • E. Martí
  • M. Ribot
  • S. Sabater
  • X. Timoner
  • K. Tockner
Recent Perspectives on Temporary River Ecology


Temporary streams are a dominant surface water type in the Mediterranean region. As a consequence of their hydrologic regime, these ecosystems contract and fragment as they dry, and expand after rewetting. Global change leads to a rapid increase in the extent of temporary streams, and more and more permanent streams are turning temporary. Consequently, there is an urgent need to better understand the effects of flow intermittency on the biogeochemistry and ecology of stream ecosystems. Our aim was to investigate how stream nutrient availability varied in relation to ecosystem contraction, fragmentation and expansion due to hydrologic drying and rewetting. We quantified the temporal and spatial changes in dissolved nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) concentrations along a reach of a temporary Mediterranean forest stream during an entire contraction–fragmentation–expansion hydrologic cycle. We observed marked temporal changes in N and P concentrations, in the proportion of organic and inorganic forms as well as in stoichiometric ratios, reflecting shifts in the relative importance of in-stream nutrient processing and external nutrient sources. In addition, the spatial heterogeneity of N and P concentrations and their ratios increased substantially with ecosystem fragmentation, reflecting the high relevance of in-stream processes when advective transport was lost. Overall, changes were more pronounced for N than for P. This study emphasizes the significance of flow intermittency in regulating stream nutrient availability and its implications for temporary stream management. Moreover, our results point to potential biogeochemical responses of these ecosystems in more temperate regions under future water scarcity scenarios.


Temporary streams Flow intermittency Drought Nitrogen Phosphorus Spatial heterogeneity 



We thank J. Rodríguez, L. Proia, M. Peipoch and A. Blesa for field assistance, E. Zwirnmann, H.-J. Exner, A. Lüder, S. Schell and H. Magnussen for laboratory analyses, and L. Perkin for English editing. We are also grateful to the direction of the Montnegre-Corredor Natural Park (Diputació de Barcelona) for allowing access to the sampling site and for providing meteorological data. This study was funded by the European Union through the Mediterranean Intermittent River ManAGEment (MIRAGE) project (ref: FP7 ENV 2007 1, Additional funds were provided by the project CGL2007-65549/BOS and the Consolider-Ingenio projects CSD2009-00065 (SCARCE) and CSD2007-00067 (GRACCIE) of the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation. D. von Schiller was supported by a fellowship of the German Academic Exchange Service and “laCaixa” Foundation.

Conflict of interest



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Copyright information

© Springer Basel AG 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. von Schiller
    • 1
  • V. Acuña
    • 2
  • D. Graeber
    • 3
  • E. Martí
    • 4
  • M. Ribot
    • 4
  • S. Sabater
    • 2
    • 5
  • X. Timoner
    • 2
    • 5
  • K. Tockner
    • 1
  1. 1.Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland FisheriesBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Catalan Institute for Water ResearchGironaSpain
  3. 3.Department of Freshwater EcologyNational Environmental Research InstituteSilkeborgDenmark
  4. 4.Biogeodynamics and Biodiversity GroupCentre for Advanced Studies of Blanes, CSICBlanesSpain
  5. 5.Institute of Aquatic EcologyUniversity of GironaGironaSpain

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