Light-mediated thresholds in stream-water nutrient composition in a river network

Jacques C. Finlay, James M. Hood, Michael P. Limm, Mary E. Power, John D. Schade, Jill R. Welter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


The elemental composition of solutes transported by rivers reflects combined influences of surrounding watersheds and transformations within stream networks, yet comparatively little is known about downstream changes in effects of watershed loading vs. inchannel processes. In the forested watershed of a river under a mediterranean hydrologic regime, we examined the influence of longitudinal changes in environmental conditions on water-column nutrient composition during summer base flow across a network of sites ranging from strongly heterotrophic headwater streams to larger, more autotrophic sites downstream. Small streams (0.1-10 km2 watershed area) had longitudinally similar nutrient concentration and composition with low (;2) dissolved nitrogen (N) to phosphorus (P) ratios. Abrupt deviations from this pattern were observed in larger streams with watershed areas .100 km2 where insolation and algal abundance and production rapidly increased. Downstream, phosphorus and silica concentrations decreased by .50% compared to headwater streams, and dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen increased by ;3-6 times. Decreasing dissolved P and increasing dissolved N raised stream-water N:P to 46 at the most downstream sites, suggesting a transition from N limitation in headwaters to potential P limitation in larger channels. We hypothesize that these changes were mediated by increasing algal photosynthesis and N fixation by benthic algal assemblages, which, in response to increasing light availability, strongly altered stream-water nutrient concentration and stoichiometry in larger streams and rivers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)140-150
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011


  • Angelo Coast Range Reserve
  • Autotrophy
  • California
  • Geomorphology
  • Heterotrophy
  • Lemental stoichiometry
  • N fixation
  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus
  • Primary production
  • South Fork Eel River watershed
  • Stream network
  • USA

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Light-mediated thresholds in stream-water nutrient composition in a river network'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this