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David Manning

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Ecological Applications





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Particulate organic matter (POM) processing is an important driver of aquatic ecosystem productivity that is sensitive to nutrient enrichment and drives ecosystem carbon (C) loss. Although studies of single concentrations of nitrogen (N) or phosphorus (P) have shown effects at relatively low concentrations, responses of litter breakdown rates along gradients of low‐to‐moderate N and P concentrations are needed to establish likely interdependent effects of dual N and P enrichment on baseline activity in stream ecosystems. We established 25 combinations of dissolved inorganic N (DIN; 55–545 μg/L) and soluble reactive P (SRP; 4–86 μg/L) concentrations with corresponding N:P molar ratios of 2–127 in experimental stream channels. We excluded macroinvertebrates, focusing on microbially driven breakdown of maple (Acer rubrum L.) and rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum L.) leaf litter. Breakdown rates, k, per day (d−1) and per degree‐day (dd−1), increased by up to 6× for maple and 12× for rhododendron over our N and P enrichment gradient compared to rates at low ambient N and P concentrations. The best models of k (d−1 and dd−1) included litter species identity and N and P concentrations; there was evidence for both additive and interactive effects of N and P. Models explaining variation in k dd−1 were supported by N and P for both maple and rhododendron ( = 0.67 and 0.33, respectively). Residuals in the relationship between k dd−1 and N concentration were largely explained by P, but residuals for k dd−1 and P concentration were less adequately explained by N. Breakdown rates were more closely related to nutrient concentrations than variables associated with measurements of two mechanistic parameters associated with C loss (fungal biomass and microbial respiration rate). We also determined the effects of nutrient addition on litter C : nutrient stoichiometry and found reductions in litter C:N and C:P along our experimental nutrient gradient. Our results indicate that microbially driven litter processing rates increase across low‐to‐moderate nutrient gradients that are now common throughout human‐modified landscapes.


© 2015 by the Ecological Society of America.

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