, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 442–453 | Cite as

Nitrogen Retention, Removal, and Saturation in Lotic Ecosystems

  • Melody J. Bernot
  • Walter K. Dodds
Mini review


Increased nitrogen (N) loading to lotic ecosystems may cause fundamental changes in the ability of streams and rivers to retain or remove N due to the potential for N saturation. Lotic ecosystems will saturate with sustained increases in the N load, but it is unclear at what point saturation will occur. Rates of N transformation in lotic ecosystems will vary depending on the total N load and whether it is an acute or chronic N load. Nitrogen saturation may not occur with only pulsed or short-term increases in N. Overall, saturation of microbial uptake will occur prior to saturation of denitrification of N and denitrification will become saturated prior to nitrification, exacerbating increases in nitrate concentrations and in N export downstream. The rate of N export to downstream ecosystems will increase proportionally to the N load once saturation occurs. Long term data sets showed that smaller lotic ecosystems have a greater capacity to remove in-stream N loads, relative to larger systems. Thus, denitrification is likely to become less important as a N loss mechanism as the stream size increases. There is a great need for long-term studies of N additions in lotic ecosystems and clear distinctions need to be made between ecosystem responses to short-term or periodic increases in N loading and alterations in ecosystem functions due to chronic N loading.


nitrogen cycle lotic ecosystems nitrogen loading nitrogen retention denitrification primary production nitrification 



We thank Randy Bernot, Eric Strauss, Jennifer Tank, Lareina Wall, Sarah Eichler, Dolly Gudder, and Clay Arango for helpful discussion and comments on early versions of the manuscript. This research was supported in part by the US NSF Konza LTER grant to WKD. This is publication number 02−454-J from the Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1. Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA
  2. 2.Division of BiologyKansas State UniversityManhattanUSA

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