A Non-Native Riparian Tree (Elaeagnus angustifolia) Changes Nutrient Dynamics in Streams
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Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) is a non-native riparian tree that has become common and continues to rapidly spread throughout the western United States. Due to its dinitrogen (N2)-fixing ability and proximity to streams, Russian olive has the potential to subsidize stream ecosystems with nitrogen (N), which may in turn alter nutrient processing in these systems. We tested these potential effects by comparing background N concentrations; nutrient limitation of biofilms; and uptake of ammonium (NH4-N), nitrate (NO3-N), and phosphate (PO4-P) in paired upstream-reference and downstream-invaded reaches in streams in southeastern Idaho and central Wyoming. We found that stream reaches invaded by Russian olive had higher organic N concentrations and exhibited reduced N limitation of biofilms compared to reference reaches. However, at low inorganic N background concentrations, reaches invaded by Russian olive exhibited higher demand for both NH4-N and NO3-N compared to their paired reference reaches, suggesting these streams have the potential to retain the N subsidy from Russian olive N2 fixation and diminish its downstream export and effects. Our findings demonstrate the potential for a non-native riparian plant to significantly alter biogeochemical cycling in streams. Finally, we used our results to develop a conceptual model that describes predicted effects of Russian olive and other non-native riparian N2 fixers on in-stream N dynamics.