Nutrient uptake in streams draining agricultural catchments of the midwestern United States

Melody J. Bernot, Jennifer L. Tank, Todd V. Royer, Mark B. David

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


1. Agriculture is a major contributor of non-point source pollution to surface waters in the midwestern United States, resulting in eutrophication of freshwater aquatic ecosystems and development of hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. Agriculturally influenced streams are diverse in morphology and have variable nutrient concentrations. Understanding how nutrients are transformed and retained within agricultural streams may aid in mitigating increased nutrient export to downstream ecosystems. 2. We studied six agriculturally influenced streams in Indiana and Michigan to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the factors controlling nutrient retention and export in agricultural streams using nutrient addition and isotopic tracer studies. 3. Metrics of nutrient uptake indicated that nitrate uptake was saturated in these streams whereas ammonium and phosphorus uptake increased with higher concentrations. Phosphorus uptake was likely approaching saturation as evidenced by decreasing uptake velocities with concentration; ammonium uptake velocity also declined with concentration, though not significantly. 4. Higher whole-stream uptake rates of phosphorus and ammonium were associated with the observed presence of stream autotrophs (e.g. algae and macrophytes). However, there was no significant relationship between measures of nutrient uptake and stream metabolism. Water-column nutrient concentrations were positively correlated with gross primary production but not community respiration. 5. Overall, nutrient uptake and metabolism were affected by nutrient concentrations in these agriculturally influenced streams. Biological uptake of ammonium and phosphorus was not saturated, although nitrate uptake did appear to be saturated in these ecosystems. Biological activity in agriculturally influenced streams is higher relative to more pristine streams and this increased biological activity likely influences nutrient retention and transport to downstream ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)499-509
Number of pages11
JournalFreshwater Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2006


  • Agriculture
  • Nitrogen
  • Nutrient uptake
  • Phosphorus
  • Stream

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science


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