, Volume 620, Issue 1, pp 63–76 | Cite as

Nutrient limitation of biofilm biomass and metabolism in the Upper Snake River basin, southeast Idaho, USA

  • Amy M. Marcarelli
  • Heather A. Bechtold
  • Amanda T. Rugenski
  • Richard S. Inouye
Primary research paper


It is essential to know the nutrient limitation status of biofilms to understand how they may buffer uptake and export of nutrients from polluted watersheds. We tested the effects of nutrient additions on biofilm biomass (chlorophyll a, ash free dry mass (AFDM), and autotrophic index (AI, AFDM/chl a)) and metabolism via nutrient-diffusing substrate bioassays (control, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and N + P treatments) at 11 sites in the Upper Snake River basin (southeast Idaho, USA) that differed in the magnitude and extent of human-caused impacts. Water temperature, turbidity, and dissolved inorganic N concentrations all changed seasonally at the study sites, while turbidity and dissolved inorganic N and P also varied with impact level. Chl a and AI on control treatments suggested that the most heavily impacted sites supported more autotrophic biofilms than less-impacted sites, and that across all sites biofilms were more heterotrophic in autumn than in summer. Nutrient stimulation or suppression of biofilm biomass was observed for chl a in 59% of the experiments and for AFDM in 33%, and the most frequent response noted across all study sites was N limitation. P suppression of chl a was observed only at the most-impacted sites, while AFDM was never suppressed by nutrients. When nutrient additions did have significant effects on metabolism, they were driven by differences in biomass rather than by changes in metabolic rates. Our study demonstrated that biofilms in southeast Idaho rivers were primarily limited by N, but nutrient limitation was more frequent at sites with good water quality than at those with poor water quality. Additionally, heterotrophic and autotrophic biofilm components may respond differently to nutrient enrichment, and nutrient limitation of biofilm biomass should not be considered a surrogate for metabolism in these rivers.


Eutrophic river Nutrient limitation Biofilm metabolism Nutrient loading Snake River 



This work was funded by the NSF-Idaho EPSCoR program (EPS 04-47689), the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (EPA X7-96009701), and, for Inouye, was completed in part while serving at the National Science Foundation. Any opinion, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Collaborators at the Idaho DEQ (G. Mladenka, M. Rowe, and A. Ray) provided valuable guidance, discussion, and field assistance for this project. The Shoshone-Bannock tribes graciously provided access to study sites on Fort Hall Reservation; we thank S. Matsaw and C. Tanaka for their assistance. C. Baxter, R. Clay, S. Matsaw, S. Mathies, M. Mineau, A. Ruiz, M. Thompson, and C. Waite provided field and/or lab assistance. J. Anderson provided cartographic services for Fig. 1. The chemistry and sonde data were collected as part of the Portneuf Basin Monitoring Program, and is supported by the Center for Ecological Research and Education at Idaho State University, the City of Pocatello, J. R. Simplot Company, the Portneuf Soil and Water Conservation District, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, Three Rivers RC&D Council Inc., the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Rapid Creek Research Inc., and the Idaho Departments of Agriculture, Environmental Quality, and Fish and Game.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amy M. Marcarelli
    • 1
  • Heather A. Bechtold
    • 1
  • Amanda T. Rugenski
    • 1
    • 2
  • Richard S. Inouye
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Center for Ecological Research and Education, Department of Biological SciencesIdaho State UniversityPocatelloUSA
  2. 2.Department of ZoologySouthern Illinois UniversityCarbondaleUSA
  3. 3.Division of Environmental BiologyNational Science FoundationArlingtonUSA

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