Was total primary production in the western Wadden Sea stimulated by nitrogen loading?
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Borum and Sand-Jensen (1996) described empirical relationships between nitrogen (N) loadings from land and total (benthic + pelagic) primary production rates in shallow coastal marine waters. We applied these relationships to N loadings of the western Wadden Sea system, and compared the production estimates with actually observed primary production rates of autotrophic components (phytoplankton, microphytobenthos, macroalgae and seagrasses) for those years for which field data were available. During the 1980s and early 1990s, primary production values appear in good agreement with those derived from the empirical relationships. During the 1960s and early 1970s, however, these relationships substantially overestimated the total primary production in the western Wadden Sea. Based on ambient nutrient concentrations and the Redfield ratio, production in that period was considered not to be limited by N but by phosphorus (P) during most of the time. It is concluded that primary production is not invariably stimulated by N loading from land. If other factors (i.e. additional nutrient sources, N:P ratios, internal nutrient dynamics and co-limiting effects of nutrients and light) are not taken into account, management regulations that are targeted at diminishing the effects of eutrophication hold the risk of seriously under- or overestimating nutrient reductions that are thought necessary to achieve their goals.