Responses of heterotrophic and autotrophic biofilms to nutrients in ten streams

TitleResponses of heterotrophic and autotrophic biofilms to nutrients in ten streams
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2003
AuthorsTank, JL, Dodds, WK
JournalFreshwater Biology
Pagination1031 -1049
Accession NumberKNZ00869

1. Nutrient diffusing substrata were used to determine the effect of added inorganic nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) on the development of epilithic and epixylic biofilms in 10 North American streams. Four treatments of diffusing substrata were used: Control (agar only), N addition (0.5 m NaNO3), P addition (0.5 m KH2PO4), and N + P combined (0.5 m NaNO3 + 0.5 m KH2PO4). Agar surfaces were covered with glass fibre filters (for epilithon) or discs of untreated white oak wood veneer (for epixylon).

2. We found that if algae showed significant response to nutrient addition, N limitation (either N alone or N with P) was the most frequent response both on GF/F filters and on wood. Despite the low dissolved nutrient concentrations in our study streams, more than a third of the streams did not show any response to N or P addition. In fact, P was never the sole limiting nutrient for algal biofilms in this study.

3. Nutrient addition influenced algal colonisation of inorganic versus organic substrata in different ways. The presence of other biofilm constituents (e.g. fungi or bacteria) may influence whether algal biomass on wood increased in response to nutrient addition. Algae on organic and inorganic substrata responded similarly to nutrient addition in only one stream.

4. Fungal biomass on wood was nutrient limited in six of 10 study streams. N limitation of fungal biomass (with or without secondary P limitation) was most frequent, but P limitation did occur in two streams.

5. Our results show that biomass responses to nutrient addition by the heterotrophic and autotrophic components of the epixylic biofilm were different, though both experienced the same stream nutrient conditions. For algae and fungi growing on wood, limiting nutrients were rarely similar. Only three of nine streams showed the same biomass response to nutrient addition, including two that showed no significant change in biomass despite added nutrients.