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Nitrogen processes in aquatic ecosystems

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Durand, P., Breuer, L., Johnes, P. J., Billen, G., Butturini, A., Pinay, G., van Grinsven, H., Garnier, J., Rivett, M., Reay, D. S., Curtis, C., Siemens, J., Maberly, S., Kaste, O., Humborg, C., Loeb, R., de Klein, J., Hejzlar, J., Skoulikidis, N., Kortelainen, P., Lepisto, A. and Wright, R. (2011) Nitrogen processes in aquatic ecosystems. In: Sutton, M. A., Howard, C. M., Erisman, J. W., Billen, G., Bleeker, A., Grennfelt, P., van Grinsven, H. and Grizzetti, B. (eds.) European Nitrogen Assessment. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 126-146. ISBN 9781107006126

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Abstract/Summary

Executive summary Nature of the problem (science/management/policy) • Freshwater ecosystems play a key role in the European nitrogen (N) cycle, both as a reactive agent that transfers, stores and processes N loadings from the atmosphere and terrestrial ecosystems, and as a natural environment severely impacted by the increase of these loadings. Approaches • This chapter is a review of major processes and factors controlling N transport and transformations for running waters, standing waters, groundwaters and riparian wetlands. Key findings/state of knowledge • The major factor controlling N processes in freshwater ecosystems is the residence time of water, which varies widely both in space and in time, and which is sensitive to changes in climate, land use and management. • The effects of increased N loadings to European freshwaters include acidification in semi-natural environments, and eutrophication in more disturbed ecosystems, with associated loss of biodiversity in both cases. • An important part of the nitrogen transferred by surface waters is in the form of organic N, as dissolved organic N (DON) and particulate organic N (PON). This part is dominant in semi-natural catchments throughout Europe and remains a significant component of the total N load even in nitrate enriched rivers. • In eutrophicated standing freshwaters N can be a factor limiting or co-limiting biological production, and control of both N and phosphorus (P) loading is oft en needed in impacted areas, if ecological quality is to be restored. Major uncertainties/challenges • The importance of storage and denitrifi cation in aquifers is a major uncertainty in the global N cycle, and controls in part the response of catchments to land use or management changes. In some aquifers, the increase of N concentrations will continue for decades even if efficient mitigation measures are implemented now. • Nitrate retention by riparian wetlands has oft en been highlighted. However, their use for mitigation must be treated with caution, since their effectiveness is difficult to predict, and side effects include increased DON emissions to adjacent open waters, N2O emissions to the atmosphere, and loss of biodiversity. • In fact, the character and specific spatial origins of DON are not fully understood, and similarly the quantitative importance of indirect N2O emissions from freshwater ecosystems as a result of N leaching losses from agricultural soils is still poorly known at the regional scale. • These major uncertainties remain due to the lack of adequate monitoring (all forms of N at a relevant frequency), especially – but not only – in the southern and eastern EU countries. Recommendations (research/policy) • The great variability of transfer pathways, buffering capacity and sensitivity of the catchments and of the freshwater ecosystems calls for site specific mitigation measures rather than standard ones applied at regional to national scale. • The spatial and temporal variations of the N forms, the processes controlling the transport and transformation of N within freshwaters, require further investigation if the role of N in influencing freshwater ecosystem health is to be better understood, underpinning the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive for European freshwaters.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Geography and Environmental Science
Faculty of Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Earth Systems Science
ID Code:20855
Publisher:Cambridge University Press

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