, Volume 121, Issue 1, pp 167–187 | Cite as

Ecosystem metabolism and nutrient uptake in an urban, piped headwater stream

  • Amanda J. Hope
  • William H. McDowell
  • Wilfred M. Wollheim


Piped streams, or streams that run underground, are often associated with urbanization. Despite the fact that they are ubiquitous in many urban watersheds, there is little empirical evidence regarding the ecological structure and function of piped stream reaches. This study measured ecosystem metabolism, nutrient uptake, and related characteristics of Pettee Brook—an urban stream that flows through several piped sections in Durham, New Hampshire, USA. Pettee Brook had high chloride and nutrient concentrations, low benthic biomass, and low rates of gross primary productivity (GPP), ecosystem respiration (ER), and nutrient uptake along its entire length during summer. Spring was a period of elevated biological activity, as increased light availability in the un-piped sections of the stream led to substantially higher GPP, ER, NH4 uptake, and PO4 uptake in these open reaches. Piped reaches of Pettee Brook were similar to open reaches in terms of water quality, dissolved O2 concentration, temperature, and discharge. Piped reaches did, however, have significantly less light, shallower sediments, and no debris dams. The absence of light inhibited autotrophic activity in piped reaches, resulting in the complete loss of GPP as well as a significant reduction in benthic AFDM and chlorophyll a biomass. Heterotrophic activity in piped reaches was not impaired to the same extent as autotrophic activity. Reduced ER was observed in piped reaches during the summer, but we failed to find significantly lower DOC or nutrient uptake rates in piped reaches than in open reaches. Carbon consumption in piped reaches, which do not have significant autochthonous or allochthonous carbon replenishment, must rely primarily on upstream inputs of organic matter. These results suggest that although ecological conditions in piped streams may be degraded beyond the extent of other urban stream reaches, piped reaches may still sustain some measurable ecosystem function.


Urban stream Piped stream Ecosystem metabolism Nutrient uptake Dissolved organic carbon 



We thank Gretchen Gettel, as well as three anonymous reviewers, for extremely helpful comments regarding this research. Jody Potter, Jeff Merriam, and Adam Baumann provided valuable assistance with field work, laboratory analyses, data quality control, and general problem-solving. Jody Potter also formatted the figures in this paper. Partial funding was provided by the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station. This is Scientific Contribution Number 2529.  The NH Water Resources Research Center provided additional funding, and graduate support for Amanda Hope was provided by the UNH Department of Natural Resources and the Environment and the Plum Island Ecosystem Long Term Ecological Research Program (NSF LTER OCE-0423565).

Supplementary material

10533_2013_9900_MOESM1_ESM.docx (54 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 53 kb)


  1. Allan JD, Castillo MM (2007) Stream ecology: structure and function of running waters. Springer, The NetherlandsCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ashkenas LR, Johnson SL, Gregory SV, Tank JL, Wollheim WM (2004) A stable isotope tracer study of nitrogen uptake and transformation in and old-growth forest stream. Ecology 85(6):1725–1739CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Atkinson BL, Grace MR, Hart BT, Vanderkruk KEN (2008) Sediment instability affects the rate and location of primary production and respiration in a sand-bed stream. J N Am Benthol Soc 27(3):581–592CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bencala KE (1993) A perspective on stream-catchment connections. J N Am Benthol Soc 12(1):44–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bernhardt ES, Palmer MA (2007) Restoring streams in an urbanizing world. Freshw Biol 52:738–751CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bernhardt ES, Likens GE, Hall RO Jr, Buso DC, Fisher SG, Burton TM, Meyer JL, McDowell WH, Mayer MS, Bowden WB, Findlay SEG, MacNeale KH, Stelzer RS, Lowe WH (2005a) Can’t see the forest for the stream? In-stream processing and terrestrial nitrogen exports. BioScience 55(3):219–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bernhardt ES, Palmer MA, Allan JD, Alexander G, Barnas K, Brooks S, Carr J, Clayton S, Dahm C, Follstad-Shah J, Galat D, Gloss S, Goodwin P, Hart D, Hassett B, Jenkinson R, Katz S, Kondolf GM, Lake PS, Lave R, Meyer JL, O’Donnell TK, Pagano L, Powell B, Sudduth E (2005b) Synthesizing U.S. river restoration efforts. Science 308:636–637CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bernot MJ, Sobota DJ, Hall RO Jr, Mulholland PJ, Dodds WK, Webster JR, Tank JL, Ashkenas LR, Cooper LW, Dahm CN, Gregory SV, Grimm NB, Hamilton SK, Johnson SL, McDowell WH, Meyer JL, Peterson B, Poole GC, Valett HM, Arango C, Beaulieu JJ, Burgin AJ, Crenshaw C, Helton AM, Johnson L, Merriam J, Niederlehner BR, O’Brien JM, Potter JD, Sheibley RW, Thomas SM, Wilson K (2010) Inter-regional comparison of land-use effects on stream metabolism. Freshw Biol 55:1874–1890CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bott TL (2007) Primary productivity and community respiration. In: Hauer FR, Lamberti GA (eds) Methods in stream ecology, 2nd edn. Academic Press, San Diego, pp 663–690CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Butturini A, Battin TJ, Sabater F (2000) Nitrification in stream sediment biofilms: the role of ammonium concentration and DOC. Water Resour 34(2):629–639Google Scholar
  11. Daley ML, Potter JD, McDowell WH (2009) Salinization of urbanizing New Hampshire streams and groundwater: effects of road salt and hydrologic variability. J N Am Benthol Soc 28(4):929–940CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Davies PJ, Wright IA, Jonasson OJ, Findlay SJ (2010) Impact of concrete and PVC pipes on urban water chemistry. Urban Water J 7(4):233–241CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Doyle MW, Bernhardt ES (2011) What is a stream? Environ Sci Technol 45(2):354–359CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Elmore AJ, Kaushal SS (2008) Disappearing headwaters: patterns of stream burial due to urbanization. Front Ecol Environ 6(6):308–312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Ensign SH, Doyle MW (2006) Nutrient spiraling in streams and river networks. J Geophys Res 111(G04009):1–13Google Scholar
  16. Fellows CS, Clapcott JE, Udy JW, Bunn SE, Harch BD, Smith MJ, Davies PM (2006) Benthic metabolism as an indicator of stream ecosystem health. Hydrobiologia 572:71–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Freeman MC, Pringle CM, Jackson CR (2007) Hydrologic connectivity and the contribution of stream headwaters to ecological integrity at regional scales. J Am Water Resour Assoc 43(1):5–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Grimm NB, Sheibley RW, Crenshaw CL, Dahm CN, Roach WJ, Zeglin LH (2005) N retention and transformation in urban streams. J N Am Benthol Soc 24(3):626–642CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Grimm NB, Faeth SH, Golubiewski NE, Redman CL, Wu J, Bai X, Briggs J (2008) Global change and the ecology of cities. Science 319:756–760CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Groffman PM, Dorsey AM, Mayer PM (2005) N processing within geomorphic structures in urban streams. J N Am Benthol Soc 24(3):613–625CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hall RO, Tank JL (2003) Ecosystem metabolism controls nitrogen uptake in streams in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Limnol Oceanogr 48(3):1120–1128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hall RO Jr, Tank JL, Sobota DJ, Mulholland PJ, O’Brien JM, Dodds WK, Webster JR, Valett HM, Poole GC, Peterson BJ, Meyer JL, McDowell WH, Johnson SL, Hamilton SK, Grimm NB, Gregory SV, Dahm CN, Cooper LW, Ashkenas LR, Thomas SM, Sheibley RW, Potter JD, Niederlehner BR, Johnson L, Helton AM, Crenshaw C, Burgin AJ, Bernot MJ, Beaulieu JJ, Arango C (2009) Nitrate removal in stream ecosystems measured by 15N addition experiments: total uptake. Limnol Oceanogr 54:653–665Google Scholar
  23. Hill WR, Mulholland PJ, Marzolf ER (2001) Stream ecosystem responses to forest leaf emergence in spring. Ecology 82(8):2306–2319Google Scholar
  24. Houser JN, Mulholland PJ, Maloney KO (2005) Catchment disturbance and stream metabolism: patterns in ecosystem respiration and gross primary productivity along a gradient of upland soil and vegetation disturbance. J N Am Benthol Soc 24(3):538–552CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Izagirre O, Agirre A, Bermejo M, Pozo J, Elosesgi A (2008) Environmental controls of whole-stream metabolism identified from continuous monitoring of Basque streams. J N Am Benthol Soc 27(2):252–268CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Johnson LT, Tank JL, Arango CP (2009) The effect of land use on dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen uptake in streams. Freshw Biol 54:2335–2350CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kaushal SS, Belt KT (2012) The urban watershed continuum: evolving spatial and temporal dimensions. Urban Ecosyst 15:409–435CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kaushal SS, Groffman PM, Mayer PM, Striz E, Gold AJ (2008) Effects of stream restoration on denitrification in an urbanizing watershed. Ecol Appl 18:789–804CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kemp MJ, Dodds WK (2002) The influence of ammonium, nitrate, and dissolved oxygen concentrations on uptake, nitrification, and denitrification rates associated with prairie stream substrata. Limnol Oceanogr 47(5):1380–1393CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Klocker CA, Kaushal SS, Groffman PM, Mayer PM, Morgan RP (2009) Nitrogen uptake and denitrification in restored and unrestored streams in urban Maryland, USA. Aquat Sci 71:411–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kreuger J (1998) Pesticides in stream water within an agricultural catchment in southern Sweden, 1990–1996. Sci Total Environ 216:227–251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lemay G (2010) Stream temperature impacts of culverts and impervious areas. MSc Thesis, University of New Hampshire, DurhamGoogle Scholar
  33. Marzolf ER, Mulholland PJ, Steinman AD (1994) Improvements to the diurnal upstream-downstream dissolved oxygen change technique for determining whole-stream metabolism in small streams. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 51:1591–1599CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Meyer JL, Paul MJ, Taulbee WK (2005a) Stream ecosystem function in urbanizing landscapes. J N Am Benthol Soc 24(3):602–612CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Meyer JL, Poole GC, Jones KL (2005b) Buried alive: potential consequences of burying headwater streams in drainage pipes. Proceedings of the (2005) Georgia Water Resources Conference, held April 25–27, 2005, at the University of Georgia. Hatcher KJ (ed) Accessed Sept 2013
  36. Mulholland PJ, Fellows CS, Tank JL, Grimm NB, Webster JR, Hamilton SK, Marti E, Ashkenas L, Bowden WB, Dodds WK, McDowell WH, Paul MJ, Peterson BJ (2001) Inter-biome comparison of factors controlling stream metabolism. Freshw Biol 46:1503–1517CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mulholland PJ, Tank JL, Webster JR, Bowden WB, Dodds WK, Gregory SV, Grimm NB, Hamilton SK, Johnson SL, Marti E, McDowell WH, Merriam JL, Meyer JL, Peterson BJ, Valett HM, Wollheim WM (2002) Can uptake length in streams be determined by nutrient addition experiments? Results from an interbiome comparison study. J N Am Benthol Soc 21(4):544–560CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Mulholland PJ, Thomas SA, Valett HM, Webster JR, Beaulieu J (2006) Effects of light on NO3 uptake in small forested streams: diurnal and day-to-day variations. J N Am Benthol Soc 25(3):583–595CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Mulholland PJ, Helton AM, Poole GC, Hall RO, Hamilton SK, Peterson BJ, Tank JL, Ashkenas LR, Cooper LW, Dahm CN, Dodds WK, Findlay SEG, Gregory SV, Grimm NB, Johnson SL, McDowell WH, Meyer JL, Valett HM, Webster JR, Arango CP, Beaulieu JJ, Bernot MJ, Burgin AJ, Crenshaw CL, Johnson LT, Niederlehner BR, O’Brien JM, Potter JD, Sheibley RW, Sobota DJ, Thomas SM (2008) Stream denitrification across biomes and its response to anthropogenic nitrate loading. Nature 452:202–206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Newbold JD, Bott TL, Kaplan LA, Dow CL, Jackson JK, Aufdenkampe AK, Martin LA, Van Horn DJ, de Long AA (2006) Uptake of nutrients in streams in New York city drinking-water-supply watersheds. J N Am Benthol Soc 25(4):998–1017CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Palmer MA (2009) Reforming watershed restoration: science in need of application and applications in need of science. Estuar Coasts 32:1–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Palmer M, Bernhardt E, Chornesky E, Collins S, Dobson A, Duke C, Gold B, Jacobson R, Kingsland S, Kranz R, Mappin M, Martinez ML, Micheli F, Morse J, Pace M, Pascual M, Palumbi S, Reichman OJ, Simons A, Townsend A, Turner M (2004) Ecology for a crowded planet. Science 304:1251–1252CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Paul MJ, Meyer JL (2001) Streams in the urban landscape. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 32:333–365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Peterson BJ, Wollheim WM, Mulholland PJ, Webster JR, Meyer JL, Tank JL, Marti E, Bowden WB, Valett HM, Hershey AE, McDowell WH, Dodds WK, Hamilton SK, Gregory S, Morrall DD (2001) Control of nitrogen export from watersheds by headwater streams. Science 292:86–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Raymond P, Zappa C, Butman D, Bott T, Potter JD, Mulholland PJ, Laursen A, McDowell WH, Newbold D (2012) Scaling the gas transfer velocity and hydraulic geometry in streams and small rivers. Limnol Oceanogr Fluids Environ 2:41–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Roberts BJ, Mulholland PJ, Hill WR (2007) Multiple scales of temporal variability in ecosystem metabolism rates: results from 2 years of continuous monitoring in a forested headwater stream. Ecosystems 10:588–606CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Roy AH, Dybas AL, Fritz KM, Lubbers HR (2009) Urbanization affects the extent and hydrologic permanence of headwater streams in a midwestern US metropolitan area. J N Am Benthol Soc 28(4):911–928CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sartory DP, Grobbelaar JE (1984) Extraction of chlorophyll a from freshwater phytoplankton for spectrophotometric analysis. Hydrobiologia 114:177–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Simmons GM Jr, Waye DF, Herbein S, Myers S, Walker E (2002) Estimating nonpoint source fecal coliform sources using DNA profile analysis. Advances in water monitoring research. Younow T (ed) Accessed Sept 2013
  50. Steele MK, McDowell WH, Aitkenhead-Peterson JA (2010) Chemistry of urban, suburban, and rural surface waters. In: Aitkenhead-Peterson JA, Volder A (eds) Urban ecosystem ecology. American Society of Agronomy, Inc., Madison, pp 297–339Google Scholar
  51. Steinman AD, Lamberti GA, Levine PR (2007) Biomass and pigments of benthic algae. In: Hauer FR, Lamberti GA (eds) Methods in stream ecology, 2nd edn. Academic Press, San Diego, pp 357–379CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Stream Solute Workshop (1990) Concepts and methods for assessing solute dynamics in stream ecosystems. J N Am Benthol Soc 9(2):95–119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Tank JL, Rosi-Marshall EJ, Griffiths NA, Entrekin SA, Stephen ML (2010) A review of allochthonous organic dynamics and metabolism in streams. J N Am Benthol Soc 29(1):118–146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Taylor SL, Roberts SC, Walsh CJ, Hatt BE (2004) Catchment urbanisation and increased benthic algal biomass in streams: linking mechanisms to management. Freshw Biol 49:835–851CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. United Nations (2008) Urban population, development, and the environment 2007. Accessed Sept 2013
  56. United States Environmental Protection Agency (1988) Ambient water quality criteria for chloride—1988. Office of Water Regulations and Standards Criteria and Standards Division, US EPA, Washington, DC. Accessed Sept 2013
  57. University of New Hampshire Energy & Campus Development Campus Planning GIS Group (2009) UNH stormwater maps.
  58. Walsh CJ, Fletcher TD, Ladson AR (2005a) Stream restoration in urban catchments through redesigning stormwater systems: looking to the catchment to save the stream. J N Am Benthol Soc 24(3):690–705CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Walsh CJ, Roy AH, Feminella JW, Cottingham PD, Groffman PM, Morgan RP (2005b) The urban stream syndrome: current knowledge and the search for a cure. J N Am Benthol Soc 24(3):706–723CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Wanninkhof R (1992) Relationship between wind-speed and gas exchange over the ocean. J Geophys Res Oceans 97:7373–7382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Wanninkhof R, Mulholland PJ, Elwood JW (1990) Gas exchange rates for a first-order stream determined with deliberate and natural tracers. Water Resour Res 26:1621–1630Google Scholar
  62. Webster JR, Valett HM (2007) Solute dynamics. In: Hauer FR, Lamberti GA (eds) Methods in stream ecology, 2nd edn. Academic Press, San Diego, pp 169–185CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Webster JR, Mulholland PJ, Tank JL, Valett HM, Dodds WK, Peterson BJ, Bowden WB, Dahm CN, Findlay S, Gregory SV, Grimm NB, Hamilton SK, Johnson SL, Marti E, McDowell WH, Meyer JL, Morrall DD, Thomas SA, Wollheim WM (2003) Factors affecting ammonium uptake in streams—an inter-biome perspective. Freshw Biol 48:1329–1352CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Wenger SJ, Roy AH, Jackson CR, Bernhardt ES, Carter TL, Filoso S, Gibson CA, Hession WC, Kaushal SS, Marti E, Meyer JL, Palmer MA, Paul MJ, Purcell AH, Ramirez A, Rosemond AD, Schofield KA, Sudduth EB, Walsh CJ (2009) Twenty-six key research questions in urban stream ecology: an assessment of the state of the science. J N Am Benthol Soc 28(4):1080–1098CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Wetzel RG (2001) Limnology: lake and river ecosystems. Academic Press, San DiegoGoogle Scholar
  66. Young RG, Huryn AD (1998) Comment: improvements to the diurnal upstream-downstream dissolved oxygen change technique for determining whole-stream metabolism in small streams. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 55:1784–1785CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Young RG, Matthaei CD, Townsend CR (2008) Organic matter breakdown and ecosystem metabolism: functional indicators for assessing river ecosystem health. J N Am Benthol Soc 27(3):605–625CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amanda J. Hope
    • 1
    • 2
  • William H. McDowell
    • 1
  • Wilfred M. Wollheim
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Natural Resources and the EnvironmentUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA
  2. 2.WoburnUSA
  3. 3.Earth Systems Research Center, Institute for the Study of Earth Ocean and SpaceUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA

Personalised recommendations