, Volume 11, Issue 5, pp 670–687 | Cite as

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

  • Daniel von Schiller
  • Eugènia Martí
  • Joan Lluis Riera
  • Miquel Ribot
  • Alba Argerich
  • Paula Fonollà
  • Francesc Sabater


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.


nutrient retention nutrient spiralling uptake length temporal variation nitrogen phosphorus intermittent stream 



The authors would like to thank S. Pla for her laboratory assistance and all the investigators who kindly provided the data used in the literature review. Comments from N. B. Grimm, the VT Underground team, K. Tockner and two anonymous reviewers improved the quality of the manuscript. We are also grateful to the Direcció del Parc Natural del Montseny (Diputació de Barcelona) for ensuring access to the site during the experiment. Financial support was provided by the European Union through the EURO-LIMPACS project (ref: GOCE-CT-2003-505540, and by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science through RENITRAC (ref: REN2002-03592/HID) and NICON (ref: CGL2005-07362-C02) projects. D. von Schiller and P. Fonollà were supported by I3P PhD scholarships from the Spanish Council for Scientific Research (CSIC).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel von Schiller
    • 1
  • Eugènia Martí
    • 1
  • Joan Lluis Riera
    • 2
  • Miquel Ribot
    • 1
  • Alba Argerich
    • 2
  • Paula Fonollà
    • 1
  • Francesc Sabater
    • 2
  1. 1.Limnology groupCentre d’Estudis Avançats de Blanes (CSIC)BlanesSpain
  2. 2.Departament d’Ecologia, Facultat de BiologiaUniversitat de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain

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