, Volume 125, Issue 1, pp 115–131 | Cite as

The varying role of water column nutrient uptake along river continua in contrasting landscapes

  • Alexander J. Reisinger
  • Jennifer L. Tank
  • Emma J. Rosi-Marshall
  • Robert O. HallJr.
  • Michelle A. Baker


Nutrient transformation processes such as assimilation, dissimilatory transformation, and sorption to sediments are prevalent in benthic zones of headwater streams, but may also occur in the water column. The river continuum concept (RCC) predicts that water column processes become increasingly important with increasing stream size. We predicted that water column nutrient uptake increases with stream size, mirroring carbon/energy dynamics predicted by the RCC. We measured water column uptake of ammonium (\({\text{NH}}_{4}^{ + }\)), nitrate (\({\text{NO}}_{3}^{ - }\)), and soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) in 1st through 5th order stream and river reaches (discharge: 50–68,000 L s−1) in three watersheds ranging from <1 to >70 % developed lands. We found that water column volumetric uptake (U vol ) of \({\text{NH}}_{4}^{ + }\), \({\text{NO}}_{3}^{ - }\), and SRP did not significantly differ among watersheds and we did not find any longitudinal patterns for U vol . Uptake velocity (v f ) of \({\text{NH}}_{4}^{ + }\) increased with stream size, whereas \({\text{NO}}_{3}^{ - }\) and SRP v f did not differ with stream size or among watersheds. Both U vol and v f were related to water column metabolism and material suspended in the water column, but specific relationships differed among solutes and uptake metrics. Median water column v f across 15 sites was 4, 9, and 19 % of median whole-stream \({\text{NH}}_{4}^{ + }\), \({\text{NO}}_{3}^{ - }\), and SRP v f based upon a previous meta-analysis. Thus, although we could not demonstrate a generalized longitudinal pattern in water column nutrient uptake, water column processes can be important. An improved mechanistic understanding of the controls on uptake and the ultimate fate of nutrients will facilitate effective management and restoration for mitigating downstream nutrient export.


Water column River continuum Nutrient uptake Nitrogen Phosphorus 



We thank E. Taylor-Salmon, N. Anderson, and Z. Volenec for help collecting field data, U. Mahl for assistance with laboratory analyses, and R. Hesselink, S. Powers, and B. Hanrahan for critical reviews of earlier versions of this manuscript. This manuscript was greatly improved by two anonymous reviewers. We also thank the University of Wyoming - National Park Service Research Station in Grand Teton National Park for logistical support and Grand Teton National Park for permission to access sites in the Snake River Watershed. Multiple land owners provided access to sites in the St. Joseph River Watershed. A.J. Reisinger was partially supported by a Schmitt Presidential Fellowship provided by the Graduate School at the University of Notre Dame, a University of Wyoming - National Parks Service Small Grant to fund Summer 2013 research, and a General Endowment Fund Award from the Society for Freshwater Science. This research was part of a larger project supported by National Science Foundation grants DEB 09-22118 awarded to JLT, DEB 09-21598 awarded to ROH, DEB 09-22153 awarded to MAB, and 10-07807 awarded to EJRM.

Supplementary material

10533_2015_118_MOESM1_ESM.docx (15 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 15 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexander J. Reisinger
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jennifer L. Tank
    • 1
  • Emma J. Rosi-Marshall
    • 2
  • Robert O. HallJr.
    • 3
  • Michelle A. Baker
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA
  2. 2.Cary Institute of Ecosystem StudiesMillbrookUSA
  3. 3.Department of Zoology and PhysiologyUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biology and the Ecology CenterUtah State UniversityLoganUSA

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