, Volume 97, Issue 2–3, pp 195–209 | Cite as

Sediment microbial enzyme activity as an indicator of nutrient limitation in the great rivers of the Upper Mississippi River basin

  • Brian H. HillEmail author
  • Colleen M. Elonen
  • Terri M. Jicha
  • David W. Bolgrien
  • Mary F. Moffett


We compared extracellular enzyme activity (EEA) of microbial assemblages in river sediments at 447 sites along the Upper Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio Rivers with sediment and water chemistry, atmospheric deposition of nitrogen and sulfate, and catchment land uses. The sites represented five unique river reaches—impounded and unimpounded reaches of the Upper Mississippi River, the upper and lower reaches of the Missouri River, and the entire Ohio River. Land use and river chemistry varied significantly between rivers and reaches. There was more agriculture in the two Upper Mississippi River reaches, and this was reflected in higher nutrient concentrations at sites in these reaches. EEA was highest in the two Upper Mississippi River reaches, followed by the lower Missouri River reach. EEA was generally lowest in the upper Missouri River reach. Canonical correlation analysis revealed a strong correlation between EEA and the suite of water and sediment chemistry variables, and the percent of the catchment in anthropogenically dominated land uses, including agriculture and urban development. Nutrient ratios of the waters and sediments suggested carbon (C), nitrogen (N), or phosphorus (P) limitation at a large number of sites in each reach. C-limitation was most pronounced in the unimpounded Mississippi River and lower Missouri River reaches; N-limitation was prevalent in the two Missouri River reaches; and P-limitation dominated the Ohio River. Linking microbial enzyme activities to regional-scale anthropogenic stressors in these large river ecosystems suggests that microbial enzyme regulation of carbon and nutrient dynamics may be sensitive indicators of anthropogenic nutrient and carbon loading.


Microbial enzymes Nutrients Stoichiometry Upper Mississippi River basin 



We thank Xiaoli Yuan (USGS Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center) for analytical chemistry support; Marlys Cappaert and her data team (CSC Corp.) for database support; and Tatiana Nawrocki, Matthew Starry, Roger Meyer, and Jesse Adams (CSC Corp.) for GIS support. Tony Olsen supervised the creation of the survey design. We are especially indebted to the field crews who collected the data. The information in this document has been funded wholly by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It has been subjected to review by the National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory and approved for publication. Approval does not signify that the contents reflect the views of the Agency, nor does mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brian H. Hill
    • 1
    Email author
  • Colleen M. Elonen
    • 1
  • Terri M. Jicha
    • 1
  • David W. Bolgrien
    • 1
  • Mary F. Moffett
    • 1
  1. 1.Office of Research and Development, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Mid-Continent Ecology DivisionUS Environmental Protection AgencyDuluthUSA

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