Quantification of the Nitrogen Cycle in a Prairie Stream
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Nitrogen (N) was added for 35 days in the form of 15NH4Cl to Kings Creek on Konza Prairie, Kansas. Standing stocks of N in key compartments (that is, nutrients, detritus, organisms) were quantified, and the amount of labeled N entering the compartments was analyzed. These data were used to calculate turnover and flux rates of N cycling through the food web, as well as nutrient transformation rates. Inorganic N pools turned over much more rapidly in the water column of this stream than in pelagic systems where comparable measurements have been made. As with other systems, the mass of ammonium was low but it was the key compartment mediating nutrient flux through the ecosystem, whereas dissolved organic N, the primary component of N flux through the system, is not actively cycled. Nitrification was also a significant flux of N in the stream, with rates in the water column and surface of benthos accounting for approximately 10% of the total ammonium uptake. Primary consumers assimilated 67% of the inorganic N that entered benthic algae and microbes. Predators acquired 23% of the N that consumers obtained. Invertebrate collectors, omnivorous crayfish (Orconectes spp.), and invertebrate shredders dominated the N flux associated with primary consumers. Mass balance calculations indicated that at least 23% of the 309 mg of 15N added during the 35 days of release was retained within the 210-m stream reach during the release. Overall, the rates of turnover of N in organisms and organic substrata were significantly greater when C:N was low. This ratio may be a surrogate for biological activity with regard to N flux in streams.
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