Stream ecosystem processes such as nutrient cycling may vary with stream position in the network. Using a scaling approach, we examined the relationship between stream size and nutrient uptake length, which represents the mean distance that a dissolved solute travels prior to removal from the water column.
Ammonium (NH4+) uptake length increased proportionally with stream size measured as specific discharge (discharge/stream width) with a scaling exponent = 1.01. In contrast, uptake lengths for nitrate (NO3−) and soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) increased more rapidly than increases in specific discharge (scaling exponents = 1.19 for NO3− and 1.35 for SRP). Additionally, the ratio of inorganic nitrogen (N) uptake length to SRP uptake length declined with stream size; there was relatively lower demand for SRP compared to N as stream size increased.
Finally, we related the scaling of uptake length with specific discharge to that of stream length using Hack's law and downstream hydraulic geometry. Ammonium uptake length increased less than proportionally with distance from the headwaters, suggesting a strong role for larger streams and rivers in regulating nutrient transport.
Hall, R. O., Jr., M. A. Baker, E. J. Rosi-Marshall, J. L. Tank, and J. D. Newbold (2013): Solute-specific scaling of inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus uptake in streams. Biogeosciences 10:7323-7331. DOI: 10.5194/bg-10-7323-2013