Aquatic Ecology

, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 337–348 | Cite as

Spatial variance of nutrient limitation of periphyton in montane, headwater streams (McLeod River, Alberta, Canada)

  • Robyn L. IrvineEmail author
  • Leland J. Jackson
Original Paper


There have been few studies that have examined the spatial variance of nutrient limitation over the scale of an entire set of headwater streams. We used nutrient diffusing substrata experiments (control, nitrogen addition, phosphorus addition, and nitrogen+phosphorus addition) to examine how nutrient limitation varied throughout the five creeks that comprise the McLeod River headwaters (Alberta, Canada). We assessed the variance of chlorophyll a accrual at spatial scales within reach, within creek, among creeks and across linear distance within the entire watershed to assess the consistency and scale of nutrient limitation. We analyzed the importance of the spatial scale using several methods. We assessed the coefficient of variation at different scales, the spatial covariance of nitrogen and phosphorus deficiency indices using a spline correlogram, and the variance through traditional analyses of variance methods. Chlorophyll a accrual responded significantly to nutrients in all creeks, though the response varied in magnitude and in the limiting nutrient among reaches and among creeks. Variance in chlorophyll a accrual was due primarily to the factor of creek (R 2=0.40) and secondarily to reach (R 2=0.07). The CV was 31.4% among creeks, 18.4% among reaches, and 17.9% within reaches. The N deficiency index showed a positive correlation at sites located <4 km apart and a negative correlation at sites greater than 6.5 km apart. The P deficiency index showed no discernible spatial correlation. Our results suggest that nutrient limitation varies on small scales and is often driven by local processes.


Nutrient diffusing substrata Nutrient limitation Spatial variance Spline correlogram Streams 


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We thank E.E. Crone, M.E. Meding, J.S. Richardson, J.L. Thorley and three anonymous reviewers for thoughtful and constructive reviews of drafts of this manuscript and L.D. Harder for helpful statistical discussions. An NSERC PGS B, a Mountain Equipment Co-op Environment Fund grant, and an Alberta Biodiversity grant to R.L.I., and an NSERC Discovery grant to L.J.J. funded this work. R.L.I. thanks her current employer, Golder Associates Ltd., for donating time in order for her to complete this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Golder Associates Ltd.CastlegarCanada
  2. 2.Ecology Division, Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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